2018 Changemaker: Jessie Diggins

Jessie Diggins (Courtesy Photo)

Jessie Diggins grew up cross-country skiing in Minnesota. She made racing her profession, and in February 2018 in South Korea, Diggins was part of a two-person relay team that won the first-ever United States women’s medal in any Olympic cross-country ski event.

The duo, Diggins and Alaska’s Kikkan Randall, edged Sweden for the gold in the Team Sprint event, racing three 1,250-meter laps each, with Diggins lunging across the finish line to secure first place by a fraction of a second. 

Throughout her life, Diggins has been using the spotlight of success to empower girls and women. “As soon as I realized I had the opportunity to influence other people, I did it,” she says. “After the Olympics, I’ve had a much larger platform, but I’ve always been doing things to help inspire the next generation.” 

Diggins is an ambassador for the Fast and Female organization, which is a not-for-profit organization to help keep girls active and participating in sports throughout their teens. She points out that motivation works both ways. She believes younger athletes can enliven older ones with their energy and enthusiasm. 

Earlier this year, Diggins posed nude, on her skis, for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue. Before accepting, she debated whether she was confident enough about her appearance to show the world what her muscles look like under her ski suit. It is a confidence she has not always felt. 

In her late teens, Diggins struggled with bulimia. She recovered by working with The Emily Program, a nationally recognized Minnesota-based organization that assists people who have unhealthy eating behaviors. Now, Diggins has partnered with The Emily Program and wants to help open up the conversation about eating disorders and body image. 

Diggins reveals that hers is “not a fairytale story of ‘I worked hard and I got everything I ever wanted.’ [I] really struggled, but was able to get help and be supported.” She wants people to know that it is a “brave thing to ask for help. It’s not shameful or embarrassing. It is brave to ask for what you need.” 

Diggins says that she is “really, really proud” of helping to remove the stigma from discussing eating disorders. She says that “the Olympics required hard work, drive, and determination,” but speaking out about her struggles “took more courage than the Olympics, and will have the most impact long term.” 

She adds, “Everyone you’ve ever looked up to has struggled with something. The day I decided to share my story, I became a much better role model.” 

Jessie Diggins wants people to educate themselves and others about eating disorders that can affect people of all ages, genders, and abilities. 

Diggins’s message to women and girls: “It’s a common thing to say, ‘I feel fat,’ or ‘I don’t look good.’ But it’s really important for girls and women instead to hear, ‘I feel strong! I ran 10 miles and I feel healthy and capable.’” 

She adds, “Having a healthy body image is choosing to see the positive and treat yourself with respect and care. Love yourself for who you are. You don’t need to look like anyone else. Don’t say things to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your dearest friend. The best way we can help others is not just by encouraging them, but leading by example.” 

Diggins writes in her blog: “Let’s try to focus not on what our bodies look like, but what they can DO. They take us to some pretty amazing places. Our bodies can run up and over mountains, ski through awe-inspiring trail systems, and take us on sweet bike tours.” 

• Information about eating disorders: emilyprogram.com/what-we-treat 

• Empower girls and women through through sports: fastandfemale.com 

Inspiring athletes: 
• fastandfemale.com/ambassadors-usa 
• katecourtney.com 
• jessiediggins.com/body-issues