Wild Rumpus Sports

We’re really into Sparkle Season now, folks

Relay days bring out my inner Disney Princess. What can I say? I have always had a profound love of glitter and all things sparkly, but on relay day I get to put the USA and some stars or a flag on everyone’s cheeks in face paint, too! I glitter it up to high heaven and put on the striped socks that make me feel like I can go do anything. Magic can sometimes happen on relay day, and perhaps it’s that stubborn belief that “miracles happen, you know?” that makes me laugh and realize I do in fact sound like a Disney Princess. But like, one of the new-age ones that goes out and does cool stuff, not one of the original ones that just lays around waiting for a strange man to kiss her.

Getting Sadie ready for the first leg of the relay (which she totally crushed!) photo from Kelsey Phinney

I was so proud of our teams for how we skied today in the relay. All you can ever do is your very best shot, and as a team we tend to work into the season. So a 5th place finish felt very solid with a lot of potential to come down the road, and everyone skied their glittery faces off! There were some seriously gusty performances out there and it was so exciting (and nerve-wracking!) to watch with one eye on the jumbotron as I kept jogging around to stay warm and ready in the start pen.

Our relay! Caitlin (leg 3), Sadie (leg 1), Rosie (leg 2) and me (leg 4)!

I was tagged in with a 46 second gap to the podium, and closed it down to 9 seconds from 2nd place by the time I crossed the line, which was a huge confidence boost for me and a sign that I’m coming back into the race form I know and love. Racing with Ida (SWE) and Tiril (NOR) was really awesome. I went out super hard to try to shorten the gap to the next group up (here goes that “anything’s possible if I want it badly enough” attitude again…) but when I realized that I wasn’t going to drop the girls with me and that it was a really flat course with a ton of drafting, I changed tactics after about 2km and slotted into third to conserve energy and plan my finishing attack, which I barely eeeked out before Ida crossed the line behind me. We all pushed each other hard and it’s good old gritty racing like that that helps me find my sharper race form later in the season!

Showing off my sparkly face paint! (photo from Swix)

Speaking of finding my form, finding my normal life rhythm while hopping countries takes a little while, too. I have to laugh because sometimes when I’m talking to my sister on the phone, about 10 minutes in she’ll sometimes pause and say “wait a second…are you still in Norway, or….?” and I can’t blame her – I’m always on the move! Case in point: I used to have a little feature on my website that was the “Where in the World is Jessie now?” button. I had to take it down because I could never remember to update it when I was changing countries all the time. See? Even I don’t know where I am half the time!

Beitostølen, where we were this week, was absolutely stunning with a layer of fresh snow!

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be living more than half your year on the road, never quite in the same setting, but at the same time always being in a predictable rhythm once the season begins.

Sophie and I had quite the breakfast vibe with candles and Christmas music going on this week!

We almost always travel on Monday to the new venue, train Tuesday-Thursday, do what we call “race prep” on Friday which includes testing a bunch of skis with our techs. We’ll also meet up to do some intensity training on the race course to get our bodies fired up for the hard efforts ahead. Then we race Saturday and Sunday, and start the whole process over again next Monday by traveling to another country. Even though our location is never stable, you’re always doing the same things every week, and that feeling of being in a pattern and having the same habits keeps me from feeling totally lost when I’m gone from home for 5 months. It’s even easier over time because we’re often coming back to the same venues year after year, so I don’t even have to re-learn the race courses, my favorite running loop or a new gym setup. I can literally tell you what aisle the baking soda is (and I can picture what it looks like in Finnish) in the Ruka grocery store. To be fair, the store only has like 4 aisles, so that’s less impressive than it sounds. My memory’s not THAT good. I can, however, visualize each course on the World Cup if I’ve raced it a few times, and it’s nice to know what you’re going to get.

On a fun easy ski with Cork! (photo from Cork)

Last week in Lillehammer was such a strange one for me. I love racing there and the courses are what I describe as “swoopy” (and I realize I made that word up, as my computer keeps trying to change it to “snoopy” on me). But I firmly stand by the adjective “swoopy”!  The course is always turning and winding its way up and down the steep hillside, with some sharp turns and fast downhills. When it’s not icy it’s never so fast that it feels dangerous, just incredibly fun. The races on that snoopy (oops, my computer changed it on me again) course were also a mini-tour, meaning if you don’t start the first race, you can’t continue with the ones after it.

Ok so this isn’t the world’s best photo, but the walking street in Lillehammer is really beautiful! (especially when the lights go on)

Unfortunately for me, I caught this mild cold that’s going around the World Cup right now. I was super excited to race but only if I thought I was healthy enough that I wouldn’t push the little head cold into my lungs and create a larger setback that would hurt me down the road. So the two days leading up to the race I didn’t do any of my usual training…I laid in bed drinking tea and only going outside my room for meals or to go for a walk twice a day. I CRUSHED Netflix like a pro, and drank an alarming amount of tea with honey. It was really discouraging to not be able to do my normal race prep and I knew that racing after not getting my body fired up wasn’t going to be pretty, but having the chance to race at all was more important for my overall season. And to do that, I needed to get healthier.

I mean…maybe I was sick because all travel day I was curled up in a ball trying to sleep? (photo from Kelsey)

I think I wanted to race so bad that my brain convinced my body that I was healthier than I was! So I started skiing on Friday, telling myself that I’d first test skis, then warm up, and along the way I’d keep checking in with myself to see if it was a good idea to be racing. My body actually felt pretty good, so I qualified for the sprint but in the heats I didn’t feel at all like myself. I know that I always work into each season so that I can be in top form when it matters most (in late January-February) but it still isn’t fun to know that you’re nowhere near your best racing gear. I also realized after the race that while my cold was indeed very mild, I still wasn’t racing totally healthy, and on the World Cup in a sport like cross country, racing at anything less than 100% will make you bleed time in a race. The same thing happened the following day for the individual 10km skate…it was the strangest thing, but during the race I felt like I was having an out of body experience. I didn’t feel like I was there at all, and while I was pushing myself as hard as I could go, the spark wasn’t there.

Racing the skate sprint in Lillehammer (photo from George Forbes)

And that’s when a much-needed mental pep talk came in handy.

For the 10km classic pursuit, I threw any expectations of feeling good right out the window, so that if I didn’t feel great during the race it wouldn’t throw me off guard. I expected to feel terrible, in fact! I just focused on doing the very best I could with what I had that day, which in the end is all we can ever do on any given day anyways.

Focusing on the things I could control in the 10km classic (photo from George Forbes)

I’ve been having this realization over and over again throughout my career, but it never hurts to reinforce it a little in my brain: People will still love me even if I don’t win. They love me for who I am, and ski racing is just a little piece of the complex puzzle that makes me the sparkly chipmunk that I am. I’ve always felt this from my family, team, boyfriend and close friends, but to feel it from the larger ski community and fans of the sport as well is humbling and overwhelming (in a good way). I finished my race and still had a smile and sparkles to spare on my face, and all the SMS Nordic kids that were there for a training camp were right outside the media gate, waiting to give us hugs and high fives! They were there for an awesome training camp in Sjusjoen, Norway, just a little ways away and they came to cheer for all the races. It was so cool to see the kids that I help guest coach in the summer at the World Cup, and to see that to them it didn’t matter what place I came in – although I know they were cheering hard for me to do my best – it just mattered that I DID do my best. And that’s one of the best things about this sport.

Sadie and I with some of the SMS girls (photo from George Forbes

Getting some much needed hugs! (photo from George Forbes)

I also have to say how much I love and appreciate all the awesome fans that come out to cheer at every World Cup venue. It isn’t hard to find the motivation to push past what you think you’re capable of when there’s hundreds of people screaming your name!

Coach Cork does it all – coach, wax tech, ski buddy (photo from Kelsey)

As an interesting side note, I often have people asking me what it feels like right after crossing the finish line. I used to really struggle to breathe at the end of race after that final push to get my rapidly-falling-apart body across that finish line in one piece. When I’m laying in the snow for those first 20 seconds, I’m usually on the edge of blacking out, and I’m in incredible pain. Often in a gesture of “congrats” or “good job”, people will come over and rub your back, which is super kind and supportive. But I used to FREAK OUT at the feeling of a hand over my rib cage when I was hyperventilating. It became known on our team as a sort of weird rule that you never touch Jessie’s torso until at least 30 seconds after a race. It’s become a little bit hilarious because after relays, another skier will come over to say good job and reach down to rub my back, and Sadie or Rosie will shout “STOP!!!!”.

The skier will freeze, hand extended inches above my back.


*hand immediately retracts*

“Sorry, she just….has this thing…just, don’t touch her.”

I adore and love my teammates for going out of their way to protect me and my weird little ways to fight off a panic attack.

Girls group from Period one! Caitlin, Sadie, Kaitlyn, Kelsey, Rosie, Sophie, Me and Ida.

These days, I’m proud to say I’ve gotten so much better at this and at controlling my barely-checked fear at the feeling of not having enough air. But I know my teammates will always have my back. (see what I did there?!?)

Back to the World Cup!

I reached over to grab my water bottle and toppled out of the tiny bed in our apartment in Ruka, Finland. Hitting the floor with a thud, I immediately burst into what Matt calls my “Pee-wee Herman laugh”. Being stubborn, I immediately denied having a Pee-wee laugh, until he pulled up a Youtube clip and the moment I heard it I couldn’t NOT laugh, and then there were not one but two Pee-wee Herman’s laughing in the room. How embarrassing. Sophie and I goofing around for the YLE station TV (photo from Jesse Vaananen) Anyways, besides falling out of our impressively tiny Euro beds (I always forget how small the hotel beds are over here!) we’ve been getting back into the rhythm of World Cup life, shaking off the jet lag and desperately soaking up any hint of sunshine we find between the hours of 11-1pm! We started out with…

Road safety, snuggles, ski galas and skol chants.

The rest of the team training camp in Park City was awesome, and so were the extra three days I spent in town! It was so fun catching up with friends while still training a lot but winding down the intensity from camp. It makes my heart feel so happy when I get to just chill and catch up with friends that I don’t get to see often enough! Liz, Sadie and I did a painting class! (photo from Sadie) Then it was time to zip over to NYC for the annual Gold Medal Gala fundraiser! This is a really important event as it’s the single largest fundraiser for the US Ski and Snowboard team, and it supports all athletes across all sports. This year one of our big supporters donated a jet so that we could get to the ball quickly and save on plane tickets. I was extremely…

Train, Rest, Repeat!

Here we are, pounding the roller ski track in Soldier Hollow in our last US Team training camp of the year! How is it already late October? This is nuts, people! It’s hard to believe that on November 12th, I’m going to be getting on a plane…and not coming back to the US until late March. I’m excited for the season, ready to get back into the thrill of racing and see all my friends on the World Cup again, but there is one more month of work to do first. I’d say we’re pretty much Pros at the classic “team jumping shot”…(photo by Reese Brown/SIA Images) Thursday and Friday we had back-to-back time trials. We had a skate sprint time trial first, with round-robin style heats so everyone raced the course 4 times. And wow, I somehow managed to forget (or trick my brain) in between New Zealand and…

Snow Farm living

I feel so spoiled, living here at the Snow Farm in New Zealand! I’ve been to a LOT of training camps in my life, but this one takes the cake….Every. Single. Time. Why? Because every time I ski here, I feel so inspired. The rolling mountains are jaw-dropping. Our crust-cruise day last year, on the most perfect of days! (photo by Matt Whitcomb) On a bluebird day, the tracks look fake, like an over-edited image that can’t possibly be real. I mean…this backdrop can’t possibly exist in real life…right? (photo by Matt Whitcomb) First tracks! Because there are around 65-70 kilometers of groomed trails here and you’re never bored. Headed out to “hanging valley” loop! Kelsey enjoying “the loop” The crew climbing “Kirsty Burn” trail up into the mountains (photo by Matt Whitcomb) Because some of the trails hug the edge of the mountain and it looks like you’re about…

Staying on the Treadmill of Life!

We used to do VO2 Max tests quite often. Twice a year, in fact, at the US Ski Team’s headquarters in Park City, Utah. Then the specialized roller ski treadmill belt broke, and, well…you can still do the test on the new treadmill…BUT. The resistance is very different, so you no longer have consistency in the variable of how long you can remain skiing until exhaustion. And for me, that was the only one that mattered. It mattered because it tested my mind, not just physiological markers that might perhaps indicate success in sport. To my way of thinking, how resilient your brain is is the most important marker of success in sport. You could be ridiculously gifted, but that doesn’t really matter if you quit. Demonstrating the fun roller ski pump tracks for that NENSA brought for the SMS kids camps back in Stratton! (photo from Justin Beckwith) For…

Body Issue(s)

This is a blog post I wasn’t ever sure I’d write. It can be scary to reveal the less glamorous parts of ourselves to others, the parts we’re sure that nobody will love. But it is precisely because of this that I knew I needed to write this post. It takes a different form of bravery to open up to others in the hopes of helping, but it’s the most important kind of bravery I hope to possess. ~ This spring, I posed for the ESPN Body Issue. That is something I never thought I’d do! For those of you wondering, I had an all-female closed set for the photo shoot, and it was incredibly empowering. ~ Admittedly, I mostly figured I’d never get asked or have to consider it since cross country skiing isn’t a “famous” enough sport, but times, they are a-changin’! But the biggest reason I never…

Finishing a fun week!

It’s been an awesome, solid week of training here in Stratton! Now that we’re all back in one place (well, almost, but we get Alayna here tomorrow and then the family will be together), it’s been awesome to get back into a rhythm of regular training. We usually do interval sessions and strength (in the afternoons) on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, a longer over-distance training session on Sunday, and in between we have some easy distance training or speed sessions. Sounds simple, and we like to keep it that way, especially when we’re building up to more and more hours! The face you make when the hurdles are juuuuuust a little too close together! Julia, Kyle and I led foot agility for the juniors this Thursday (photo from Sverre Caldwell) A pretty cool thing about our program is that the senior SMST2 athletes lead the juniors in agility warmups before…

Please jump in

This year’s Bend camp is going down in the books as one of the very best. Despite it being the 3rd lowest snow year that they’ve had, the skiing held out until the very end of camp. We had some awesome klister skiing and easy kicking conditions to work on improving our technique in! This camp is all about getting back into shape and laying down solid volume to build a base for the rest of the summer. It’s also about getting the team back together after spring break to start the year fresh! The girls working together in intervals with a pretty amazing backdrop! (photo by Bryan Fish) A huge, warm thank you to the staff of the Mt. Bachelor Nordic center for their hospitality in keeping the trails open for us, their awesome grooming and keeping the trails clean in fast-melting conditions, and their great support of the…

Busy little bee!

My plan to have a quiet, boring spring went sideways faster than you can upload your google calendar. But it’s been exciting, too! You can’t always control how things are going to go, and sometimes you need to roll with what’s happening in the moment. “Oh, you thought you’d wash the dog hair off these clothes, did you?” Not including the post-Olympic media tour or phone interviews, since the last race of the season I’ve done over 25 events for sponsors, schools, open community events and appearances. It’s been only 50 days since that last race in Craftsbury. People have asked if, and how, my life has changed since the Games. My answer is that nope, my life is the same and I’m still a dork! I’m just a much busier dork with a little more on my plate, and a few more chances to inspire others and speak up…