Total 25 - 5FxtbN5
Wild Rumpus Sports
 

Finding my happy!

Seefeld training camp over the holiday break was incredibly wonderful, and it was exactly what I needed. I found my happy again, and I re-kindled my joy for ski racing through easy fun skis with my boyfriend Wade, and taking a big step back from World Cup racing to just remember how much fun it is to be gliding through snowy wooded trails, enjoying the feeling of sending it on the downhills and appreciating how beautiful the scenery is. We also got a ton of fresh new snow, so it was a winter wonderland!

What a picturesque trail!

“But wait, what’s this need for finding the joy in racing again”, you ask? Well, a few weeks ago, I would have said “I don’t want to talk about it, s’all ok here”. But I changed my mind. I DO want to talk about it, because not every day of my life is filled with unicorns and glitter (just most days) and I think in this day and age of social media making everything look better than it really is, it’s important to share the downs as well as the ups in life.
I got sick again right after the races in Davos, and for a few days before Wade arrived I was amazed at how sad and bummed out I felt. I felt isolated and lonely because, of course, I was trying to keep all my germs to myself and not get anyone else sick. Being a social butterfly, I knew why this was making me feel alone. But I also felt a huge let-down from period one of World Cup racing. Ever since the Olympics, I have felt as though there’s been enormous outside pressure coming down on me. Maybe it’s the increased access to athletes that comes with much better broadcasting, social media, TV interviews and online reporting. Maybe it’s my own naiveté, thinking that cross country skiing would never have the same kind of press and pressure that comes with the “big sports”. Whatever the reason, this season it’s been incredibly hard for me to tune out the external pressure to (simply) “be amazing” all the time.

Landing on the World Cup podium…is actually pretty hard, believe it or not!

In Davos, for example, I finished 5th in the 10km individual skate race. That was a good result for me any time of year, but especially in period one. More importantly, however, it was a good race for me regardless of result, because of how I raced it. I was in the zone the entire race, pushed my body so hard I was tasting blood the entire second lap, focused on skiing with the most efficient technique I had, and paced it well. For those reasons, I was proud of that race. But it seemed that all anyone said afterwards was: “good. you’re on track.” On track to what, exactly? And for whom? I felt like I couldn’t enjoy what was truly a good race for me because it hadn’t lived up to others expectations for where they thought I should be. I should point out that these “other people” aren’t the people who matter to me; my teammates, coaches, family and friends, sponsors and home ski community all support me for the right reasons, regardless of how I’m racing. Still, it’s amazing how hard it is to ignore these other voices of media, reporters, commentators and other critics because theirs are the loudest voices.
***This, by the way, is exactly why I always tell parents who ask how to best support their young racers to never ask their kids about the result after a race. Instead, I think it’s important to ask how the kid felt about the race, if they had fun, and if they were happy with it. The worst thing you can do to another racer is to tell them what they’re feeling and assume without asking that you know how they should feel and react. The right to be proud of a race effort isn’t reserved only for the winner. ***

Views like this remind me how much I love being out in the snow!

Feeling pressure isn’t exactly new, but the increased media spotlight since the Games has been different this year. As it turns out, getting everything you ever wanted isn’t exactly what I imagined it to be. There’s a downside to success in such a publicly broadcasted setting that nobody ever talks about, but over the last few months I found out what it’s like to be in a spotlight that you didn’t realize was part of the job. In the USA, the Olympics are such a huge milestone that if you win a medal, your life really will change.
Suddenly, you will be asked to do anything and everything. There will be events and galas and exciting opportunities, but there will also be times when you feel overworked, exhausted and used. You will feel immense pressure to carry the fundraising efforts for your team, but you’ll also have the opportunity to support causes that are incredibly close to your heart. There are big ups and downs, but if you’re not careful, you’ll look around and suddenly realize that you’re not happy because you never took any time for yourself to process what’s happening around you. You might feel like you need a break, but you can’t figure out how to take one.

Wade skiing the Seefeld courses with me!

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing to complain about here, and I know that! Everything important in my life is going great; I have an amazing boyfriend who treats me like I’m the most important person in the world, my friends and family are all well, and I get to live my dream job every day. But our perception shapes our reality, and if you’re not happy, you’re not happy. Simple as that.
Luckily, I had Wade there to make me feel so loved and appreciated and help me forget about the pressure I was feeling with ski racing! We went out for some awesome skis together, and on Christmas Eve we hiked some sleds up the side of a mountain and then came screaming back down in the fresh snow. Cooking great food in our cozy little apartment and getting to spend some good time with friends, I finally relaxed and started to remember why I love this sport so much! I got into ski racing because I love pushing myself and the challenge of the race, and it was nice to be able to take a step back and remember that.

Enjoying the sunny skiing together!

The start of the tracks in Seefeld go by this gorgeous old church.

Happy!

So my goals moving forward with the season are these:
Remember to have fun and race only for myself and for the joy of pushing myself as hard as I can.
And…
Be the Steve Prefontaine of the Tour.

This is how I want to race.

Whether or not I’m going to be the first one across the finish line is out of my control. I can’t control the weather, the course, wax, skis or my competitors. The only thing I have direct control of is my own effort and how much of myself I choose to give at any given moment. Choosing to give it all, racing with guts and pushing past my limits is what gives me that crazy endorphin-rush feeling of victory after a race. And that’s the feeling I’m seeking race after race, not a number on the results sheet.

Checking off the “having fun” goal with sparklers on Christmas! (photo from Simi)

Right now I’m with the team in Toblach, Italy, right in the awe-inspiring, jagged Dolomite mountains. I don’t have a great photo of how awesome it looks here, so here’s one I shamelessly stole from google. You’re welcome! Everywhere you look, there are these huge peaks lit up by the sunshine as you’re skiing around the race course, and this is one of my favorite courses on the World Cup!

Toblach, Italy!

Speaking of favorites…the Tour de Ski is, honestly, my favorite 9 days of the season. It’s hard to describe why racing day after day, fighting back the feeling of being deliriously tired, feeling like your legs are made of lead and your shoulders are too tired to lift your arms up, but racing anyways is fun…but it just is, ok? Racing is the biggest challenge we can give ourselves, and whether the race goes great or terribly wrong, you have to move on immediately to the next thing. Find the lessons to be learned from that day’s race, then start preparing for the next one. There’s no time for regret or wallowing in mistakes, just looking forward to the next opportunity to do something awesome. Maybe that’s what I love most about the Tour. It’s one big opportunity, one hopeful day after the next, one huge adrenaline rush!
You know what else is great about the Tour? Sleeping in. Check out NBC’s broadcasting schedule for the tour if you’re interested in following the action…and not getting up at 3am to do it! Click HERE for the race viewing schedule.

Finding my happy!

Seefeld training camp over the holiday break was incredibly wonderful, and it was exactly what I needed. I found my happy again, and I re-kindled my joy for ski racing through easy fun skis with my boyfriend Wade, and taking a big step back from World Cup racing to just remember how much fun it is to be gliding through snowy wooded trails, enjoying the feeling of sending it on the downhills and appreciating how beautiful the scenery is. We also got a ton of fresh new snow, so it was a winter wonderland!

What a picturesque trail!

“But wait, what’s this need for finding the joy in racing again”, you ask? Well, a few weeks ago, I would have said “I don’t want to talk about it, s’all ok here”. But I changed my mind. I DO want to talk about it, because not every day of my life is filled with unicorns and glitter (just most days) and I think in this day and age of social media making everything look better than it really is, it’s important to share the downs as well as the ups in life.
I got sick again right after the races in Davos, and for a few days before Wade arrived I was amazed at how sad and bummed out I felt. I felt isolated and lonely because, of course, I was trying to keep all my germs to myself and not get anyone else sick. Being a social butterfly, I knew why this was making me feel alone. But I also felt a huge let-down from period one of World Cup racing. Ever since the Olympics, I have felt as though there’s been enormous outside pressure coming down on me. Maybe it’s the increased access to athletes that comes with much better broadcasting, social media, TV interviews and online reporting. Maybe it’s my own naiveté, thinking that cross country skiing would never have the same kind of press and pressure that comes with the “big sports”. Whatever the reason, this season it’s been incredibly hard for me to tune out the external pressure to (simply) “be amazing” all the time.

Landing on the World Cup podium…is actually pretty hard, believe it or not!

In Davos, for example, I finished 5th in the 10km individual skate race. That was a good result for me any time of year, but especially in period one. More importantly, however, it was a good race for me regardless of result, because of how I raced it. I was in the zone the entire race, pushed my body so hard I was tasting blood the entire second lap, focused on skiing with the most efficient technique I had, and paced it well. For those reasons, I was proud of that race. But it seemed that all anyone said afterwards was: “good. you’re on track.” On track to what, exactly? And for whom? I felt like I couldn’t enjoy what was truly a good race for me because it hadn’t lived up to others expectations for where they thought I should be. I should point out that these “other people” aren’t the people who matter to me; my teammates, coaches, family and friends, sponsors and home ski community all support me for the right reasons, regardless of how I’m racing. Still, it’s amazing how hard it is to ignore these other voices of media, reporters, commentators and other critics because theirs are the loudest voices.
***This, by the way, is exactly why I always tell parents who ask how to best support their young racers to never ask their kids about the result after a race. Instead, I think it’s important to ask how the kid felt about the race, if they had fun, and if they were happy with it. The worst thing you can do to another racer is to tell them what they’re feeling and assume without asking that you know how they should feel and react. The right to be proud of a race effort isn’t reserved only for the winner. ***

Views like this remind me how much I love being out in the snow!

Feeling pressure isn’t exactly new, but the increased media spotlight since the Games has been different this year. As it turns out, getting everything you ever wanted isn’t exactly what I imagined it to be. There’s a downside to success in such a publicly broadcasted setting that nobody ever talks about, but over the last few months I found out what it’s like to be in a spotlight that you didn’t realize was part of the job. In the USA, the Olympics are such a huge milestone that if you win a medal, your life really will change.
Suddenly, you will be asked to do anything and everything. There will be events and galas and exciting opportunities, but there will also be times when you feel overworked, exhausted and used. You will feel immense pressure to carry the fundraising efforts for your team, but you’ll also have the opportunity to support causes that are incredibly close to your heart. There are big ups and downs, but if you’re not careful, you’ll look around and suddenly realize that you’re not happy because you never took any time for yourself to process what’s happening around you. You might feel like you need a break, but you can’t figure out how to take one.

Wade skiing the Seefeld courses with me!

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing to complain about here, and I know that! Everything important in my life is going great; I have an amazing boyfriend who treats me like I’m the most important person in the world, my friends and family are all well, and I get to live my dream job every day. But our perception shapes our reality, and if you’re not happy, you’re not happy. Simple as that.
Luckily, I had Wade there to make me feel so loved and appreciated and help me forget about the pressure I was feeling with ski racing! We went out for some awesome skis together, and on Christmas Eve we hiked some sleds up the side of a mountain and then came screaming back down in the fresh snow. Cooking great food in our cozy little apartment and getting to spend some good time with friends, I finally relaxed and started to remember why I love this sport so much! I got into ski racing because I love pushing myself and the challenge of the race, and it was nice to be able to take a step back and remember that.

Enjoying the sunny skiing together!

The start of the tracks in Seefeld go by this gorgeous old church.

Happy!

So my goals moving forward with the season are these:
Remember to have fun and race only for myself and for the joy of pushing myself as hard as I can.
And…
Be the Steve Prefontaine of the Tour.

This is how I want to race.

Whether or not I’m going to be the first one across the finish line is out of my control. I can’t control the weather, the course, wax, skis or my competitors. The only thing I have direct control of is my own effort and how much of myself I choose to give at any given moment. Choosing to give it all, racing with guts and pushing past my limits is what gives me that crazy endorphin-rush feeling of victory after a race. And that’s the feeling I’m seeking race after race, not a number on the results sheet.

Checking off the “having fun” goal with sparklers on Christmas! (photo from Simi)

Right now I’m with the team in Toblach, Italy, right in the awe-inspiring, jagged Dolomite mountains. I don’t have a great photo of how awesome it looks here, so here’s one I shamelessly stole from google. You’re welcome! Everywhere you look, there are these huge peaks lit up by the sunshine as you’re skiing around the race course, and this is one of my favorite courses on the World Cup!

Toblach, Italy!

Speaking of favorites…the Tour de Ski is, honestly, my favorite 9 days of the season. It’s hard to describe why racing day after day, fighting back the feeling of being deliriously tired, feeling like your legs are made of lead and your shoulders are too tired to lift your arms up, but racing anyways is fun…but it just is, ok? Racing is the biggest challenge we can give ourselves, and whether the race goes great or terribly wrong, you have to move on immediately to the next thing. Find the lessons to be learned from that day’s race, then start preparing for the next one. There’s no time for regret or wallowing in mistakes, just looking forward to the next opportunity to do something awesome. Maybe that’s what I love most about the Tour. It’s one big opportunity, one hopeful day after the next, one huge adrenaline rush!
You know what else is great about the Tour? Sleeping in. Check out NBC’s broadcasting schedule for the tour if you’re interested in following the action…and not getting up at 3am to do it! Click HERE for the race viewing schedule.

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.

“DON’T TOUCH HER!”

*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 a week in Rovaniemi, Finland, which is right on the Arctic Circle and more importantly, the “official” airport and home of Santa Claus.

Seeing the sun in Rovaniemi! (this photo of the sunrise was taken at 12:30pm, to give you an idea of how far North we are!)

Ida and I doing some staring into a “happy lamp” to help shake off the jet-lag when it’s dark outside! (photo from Sophie)

Sadly, it was 40 degrees F and also raining, and the beautiful 9km loop of man-made snow melted out for maybe the first time ever. *Cue massive alarm bells about climate change* The organizers there did a great job with what they had to work with, but we ended up moving to Ruka early in order to be on more snow, and for the first time ever we also saw green moss and plants on the side of the man-made snow in Ruka, as well.

Sophie, me and Kelsey in Rovaniemi (photo from Jason Cork)

It can be so easy to slip into self-doubt at this time of year. I hadn’t yet had a chance to do a real race, and the time trial we did in Rovaniemi was a 10km skate on the 1.4km loop of snow, weaving in and out of about 60 people training, so it was quite the experience! I’d be lying if I said my confidence was rock solid going into the first World Cup race of the year. But once I got back into the process of testing skis, doing race-prep intervals and course inspection and warming up for the race as I always do, the return to the routine helped calm my nerves. And I got to remember how gosh darn fun this all is! I just love racing and challenging my body to go faster and faster. When I look at the process of trying to get faster and race smarter, I have been doing all the hard work, no slacking off and no shortcuts, every day the last 8+ years. There’s every reason to be proud of my efforts and to trust in the process, as it’s a long season ahead! I seriously wish I could go back and tell my 20-year-old-self that exact sentiment, because it’s taken years to find the self-belief and trust in the process that I need in order to race like I know I belong on the World Cup!

Doing a quick interview the day before the race…and just remembering to not put any outside pressure on myself! (photo from Jesse Vaananen)

I didn’t qualify in the sprint, but that didn’t have any negative effect on my attitude or my belief in myself, which is something I’ve worked hard over the years to have with mental toughness training! I skied stronger and with better technique than I ever have on this course, and although the steep running-skiing technique isn’t a strength of mine, I know where I can still work to improve and I also know that I’ve come a long way from a few years ago when I would have scrambled all over the place! And I reminded myself that last year I also finished around 33rd…and that season went pretty darn well. It’s a long year, and the only way to count yourself out is to put yourself down in your own mind!

Soph and I goofing off after race prep. (photo from Jesse Vaananen)

I have to say, after going to a lot of different sporting events this year and enjoying the experience every time, it does make me appreciate the cheering on the World Cup and how positive it is! There’s none of what I call “down-cheering”, which is when you actively cheer against a person or a team. There’s only cheering for the people the fans love the most, and clapping or ringing cowbells for each and every skier, which is a super cool way of saying “you may not be my favorite or my own team, but I realize you’ve gone though a lot to get here, so I’m cheering you on, anyways!” I know this isn’t unique to Cross Country Skiing, but it is one of the things about this culture that I simply adore and admire. So a huge thank-you to all the fans out there in person, or sitting in bed in your pajamas at 5am watching the races, because all your positive energy is a powerful thing!

Super excited to be racing with The Emily Program on my hat as a reminder of what a healthy body can do, and hopefully to inspire others that they can do it, too! (photo from Sadie)

There IS an astonishing amount of down-cheering on the internet, mostly because people who would never have the spine to say it to your face suddenly find a whole lot of courage when they can make an anonymous profile online! It is, shall we say…a Presidential level of arrogance to assume you know what I’m thinking, what my strengths are, how to win a World Cup or Olympic race when it’s never been done by you, or even that anyone with access to me is actually reading your ramblings. I’m assuming these things are being said based on what others tell me in the summer after the season when we’re having a good laugh at the craziness of internet commenters during a boring training run. Because here’s the thing: I purposefully never open up a ski reporting site during the year, I never read comments, and I don’t even read many comments on my own instagram. Because the very few select people in the World who do actually have constructive feedback that can make me better are all here with me, or a quick phone call away. I’ve learned that my personality just doesn’t have thick skin, so I build a happy bubble of confidence around myself, and I’m honesty pretty stoked that I don’t have to harden my heart in order to still remain positive and confident throughout a season!

Skyping my family always makes my day! Kenzie had to cover Leo’s ears because we were talking about the chew toy he was getting for Christmas. 🙂

To keep the team spirits high, we really love to get into any celebration, and this week we had two birthdays and Thanksgiving! We all got together for Sadie and Oleg’s big days, and I had a lot of fun making two apple pies with “The Oleg” written across them. Being me, I’ve also been baking up a ton of banana bread, as it’s a really fun and relaxing activity for me and also it’s tradition for me to make a huge batch for the Wax Techs whenever we have access to a kitchen.

Oleg’s birthday pies! (photo from Sadie)

I had such a huge smile on my face when I got to see all the other countries roll into town. It’s a really special thing, having friends from around the World on different teams! Of course, you always want to race well, but the competition is reserved only for the space in between the start wand and the finish line. Which is why you’ll see a funny “na-na-dance challenge” getting passed around the World Cup instagrams, starting with Thomas Wick (Germany) and I! It’s super cool to see how hard every single person who is part of the World Cup works, but also how friendly nearly everyone is and how there’s this base level of respect; it’s a recognition of how darn tough it is to get here and how hard racing is.

If you want to follow along live, here’s where you can find the schedule! Unfortunately, this weekend in particular isn’t being broadcast live, but you should be able to see most everything else. I don’t know what time zone back in the USA these are being shown live, but we’re supposed to start the Lillehammer sprint final at 12pm Lillehammer time, so you can work it backwards from there! BROADCASTING SCHEDULE LINK

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 grateful because it meant that I could get in my 2.5 hour roller ski beforehand and not compromise a minute of my training! Besides that being basically the coolest 3 hours of my life, I had a really fun time being taken to the Ralph Lauren flagship store and being dressed by them for the ball. Living up the Cinderella moment!

“And who are you wearing tonight?” is something I’ve definitely never been asked before! (photo from Polo Ralph Lauren)

I also had the chance to continue to work on not being nervous while public speaking, as I presented the keynote speech with a video from Kikkan introducing me! It was incredibly inspiring to see all the support for the team from everyone attending. It was also really cool to be able to see the belief and cheering as we head into another season! So thank you so much to everyone who has been supporting the US Ski and Snowboard team!

Speaking to the gala! (photo from Sarah Brunson/US Ski and Snowboard Team)

Wade came to the ball!!! (triple exclamation points necessary here).

Speaking of fundraisers, I always ask once a year for my team. I train alongside my SMST2 teammates all spring, summer and fall and I’ve seen how hard everyone is working. And this year our advisory board will match up to 30,000 of (tax-deductible!) donations, which is a really awesome and generous thing! 100% of expenses go right to the training, travel, race wax and room/board costs of the team, and every dollar goes a long way to supporting the team (especially since it’s getting doubled by the matching challenge).

Supporting this hardworking team is the best gift I could ask for!

You can donate online at this link, or write a check to the address on the webpage: https://smseliteteam.wordpress.com/fundraising-challenge/

The other way to give and support cross country skiing in the US if you’re pumped about skiing and would like to donate, is the National Nordic Foundation. They’re hosting a trip to come watch World Championships in Seefeld, Austria which is a pretty darn incredible place to go ski and watch the races live! Reservations need to be made by October 31st though in order to hold the hotel rooms, so get on this one fast if you’re psyched to go watch the Championships in February! Check out the details HERE. Or, you can donate the the NNF at THIS LINK!

Hanging out with last year’s NNF trip to Seefeld! (photo from Garrott Kuzzy/Lumi Experiences, who is leading this year’s trip as well!)

When I got home to Minnesota, I immediately started baking my Dad’s special birthday cake within 20 minutes of getting in the door. Priorities, doncha know! I look forward to these family dinners as I don’t get as much time with my parents and sister anymore, but we’re really close so it’s pretty special when it works out! I also love getting to snuggle our puppy dog, Napoleon (“Leo”) and he’s getting to be quite the little mushball of love.

Getting ALL the love from Leo!

You know what else is just awesome about being back? The training. I love roller skiing around Afton. It’s this amazing mecca for skiers all around the twin cities because it’s good pavement, less traffic, and rolling hills that are perfect for training. And although it’s always felt very athlete-friendly, since the Olympics I feel like we’re even more supported and that people are looking out for our safety out there.

However, something happened this Sunday that really deeply upset me. I was out on a long ski with Kris Hansen, my high school coach and very close friend. When we heard a car coming, we moved to the far right and were skiing single file. We were on a long straight section of road with a hill ahead, but it was obvious that a car could pass with plenty of room left over. But the man driving the car buzzed us so close that I was rocked sideways from the wind. He slowed to a stop, then when we tried to ski by him, he kept driving on the right side of the road so that we were forced to the middle of the road. When we sped up, he sped up. When we slowed down, he came to a stop, blocking us from getting back to the side of the road. I knocked on the window a few times shouting that he was going to get us killed, and he flipped me the finger and turned the music up. It was the most incredible display of aggressive bullying and “I’m bigger than you and I’m in a SUV so I’m going to harass you” that I’ve ever seen in person.

Kris was smart enough to have her phone on her, but as soon as she pulled it out to take a photo of the guy’s license plate, he sped up and took off. I wrote the number in the dirt, and called the cops. They took down my information and then a police officer called me to follow up, and tracked the car’s license plate down. The officer let the man know how not ok it was – and it’s illegal to pass a cyclist without 3 feet of space in Minnesota. The officer assured me that the man had apologized, and I appreciated that the police took my call seriously.

But…it made me feel sick inside. If that guy had been 6 inches closer to us, we would be in the hospital or dead. If a car had come over the top of the hill while he was pushing us to the middle of the road, we’d also be in the hospital or dead. I think sometimes aggressive drivers don’t realize that if they “just tap” a person on the road to “teach them a lesson”, they could become a murderer right then and there.

We have a responsibility to stay safe and not create problems for ourselves by being safe and smart on the road. Make sure to ski single file, be mindful of cars, and just use common sense to be safe out there. We want to keep Afton a friendly place for roller skiers, and not give anyone a reason to dislike us. But sometimes even when you’re doing everything right, there are terrible drivers out there. As the police officer said, if they hear about this same driver harassing people again, they will be able to take next steps.

So ski with a phone in your drink belt! If someone buzzes you or does anything close to what this guy did to me and Kris, call 911 right away and report it with their license number. The police have this guy’s address on file so if it happens again, he’s going down.

On the plus side, I had so many more positive interactions to outweigh this one crazy driver. One person passed with their windows rolled down, cheering for us and waving. Another slowed down to shout “good job!!!” as they went by. Everyone else passed with what felt like 5 feet of space, and I felt so safe in my hometown. Let’s keep it that way!

Getting ready to pump up the fans! (photo from the Vikings)

Last but certainly not least, I had the extremely fun chance to get back together with the Vikings team! I was brought in to speak to the players and staff before leaving for Park City camp, and it was an honor to share insights from sports psychology and race day observations from my sport with the team. On Sunday night, I came back with family and friends to the home game and got to lead the crowd in the “skol” chant before blowing the giant Gjallarhorn to start the game. I got goosebumps from the noise alone!

Quick chat with the players during warmup…these guys are so awesome. (photo from the Vikings)

 

Let me tell you…hearing over 66,000 people shouting “skol” is some straight-up Game Of Thrones stuff.

 

Skol!

And now I’m here training hard and speaking at a few more events before leaving for Finland on November 12th!

 

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 now. I managed to forget how hard racing actually is on your body! It HURTS, you know? Pulling up to the line before the final, my legs felt shaky and I thought I might actually puke, and I couldn’t really feel my toes.

Hammering in intervals with Rosie Brennan! (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

But then I went out and hammered as hard as I could anyways, and it turns out that even when I’m convinced my body is about to fall apart, somehow that darn thing keeps on going! We’re so much stronger than we think, and our bodies are capable of so much more than we realize. Having a time trial to play around and push myself in every round was a great way to not only practice that race feeling, but to remind myself that the “pain cave” is my specialty, and it feels so satisfying to dig deep and then dig some more, and realize that I can handle it.

It feels so good to be done with intervals!!! (photo fro Matt Whitcomb)

Today we did a 12.6km for the women and 16.8km for the men. We did this on purpose, because FIS is considering adding in those distances, based on careful focus groups that determined the ideal race length for fans. These changes will go into place starting in the fall of 2019, so we need to start adjusting our bodies now! Just. Kidding. But did I get you going there, just for a second? We did those distances because that’s how long three laps of the paved roller ski course in Solder Hollow is. The real answer is so boring!

Sadie and I working on our double pole. (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

While racing at altitude is tricky because you have less oxygen and can “blow up” or “hit the wall” a lot faster than at sea level, I appreciate the chance to practice here. It’s good for me to get to play around in a low-stakes atmosphere to see exactly what it feels like right before I’m about to blow up. And as we near the end of camp, I’m feeling really good about where the team is at! Everyone’s working hard, in a good place, and looking good.

Team L3 skate intervals on a cold snowy day! (photo from Andy Newell)

But sometimes, it can be really hard to feel confident when there’s not a lot you can actually measure. We don’t have a 400 time on the track to compare in the off-season. We’re not swimmers, where we could go off a time to see if we’re in the right place. Our roller ski courses and wheels are all slightly different speeds, and even a time trial course on the pavement can be drastically faster or slower depending on the weather!

Working with Cork to improve my technique (photo from Reese Brown/SIA Images)

So what do we do, when we don’t have a way to really know where we are? Train hard, train smart, and have a little trust in the process. We’re not robots, after all. It adds a little bit of excitement, that edge of uncertainty. I do the absolute best I can, and if I’m giving this sport everything I have in training, and listening to my body, then I’m doing my job right. I also like to focus on getting the best recovery I can as well! When I go do do a strength workout in the gym, or do 6 x 4 minutes all-out intervals up a hill, those things don’t actually make me faster by themselves. I’m tearing my muscles apart and breaking my body down, and only by resting and recovering will my body come back stronger and faster. Which makes getting enough sleep basically one of the most important parts of my job!

Resting in a “cuddle puddle” with Hannah, Hailey and Julia after the time trial!

When I was training in high school, I’d hear that I needed to be sleeping better and longer, and I’d sort of roll my eyes – hey, I was a teenager! That’s what we do! – and think “but I have so many things I need to be DOING!” But hey, you know what? Mom was right. (She’s always right, by the way). Without enough sleep, I wasn’t recovering and getting the full benefit of the training I was doing. When I turned pro, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt once I started sleeping 9 hours a night, and once I had some down time in the middle of the day to do things like stretch, foam roll or ice tub. Honestly, if I could go back and tell my 15 year old self one thing to make me a better athlete.. it’d be this: sleep more. Everything else can wait, because you’ll do a better job if you’re rested.

The team at the Warren Miller movie the other night…because we’re IN IT! Sometimes you need that balance of fun things in your life along with the rest (although I DID sleep for 8.5 hours that night anyways).

I realize this sounds sort of ironic, coming from the girl who appears on social media to be EVERYWHERE and doing All Of The Things that a person could possibly do. And I recognize that the amount of extra work I’ve been taking on post-Olympics is only sustainable in the short term, so don’t worry, you’ll see me doing less next year! But in between training and helping promote the sport I love and my sponsors whom I love for supporting me in my career and also helping to grow this incredibly fun sport, I’ve been working on resting. I make sure to come to every training session ready to go, and in between training sessions I get off my feet and have a little down time. I look for ways to sleep better, to totally chill out in the middle of the day, to relax both my body and my brain!

Enjoying a really pretty sunset run!

Bose came out this summer with some particularly incredible technology for sleeping. Their sleep buds don’t cancel noise…they mask it. So you can pick a sound track that goes into these pea-sized soft flexible ear buds that you can wear all night long. I also set my alarm on these so that only I hear it, and don’t wake up my roommate. This is huge for me because I’m always traveling and changing sleeping locations, and some hotel walls are…well…thinner than others. And some roommates are sleep-talkers. I can say this because I’ve been told I sometimes LAUGH in my sleep, which is, of course, incredibly creepy. I apologize in advance to my roommates. But I still think that’s better than snoring, for the record!

Sadie’s putting up with me anyways this camp 🙂 (photo from Reese Brown/SIA Images)

I’ve used these cute little things every night for the last 3 months, and it’s been a huge asset on the road, but also at home. Sometimes it’s hard for me to quiet my brain when I have so many thoughts going round and round my head, but I also know that I need to sleep, which obviously doesn’t help because then I’m obsessing over not sleeping! But having a gentle background noise is almost meditative and helps me relax. I like using the “rain shower” sound track, and now I’ve started to associate that sound with “it’s time to sleep!” so when I hear it I start to relax automatically. And like my Slumberland Furniture pillow that I travel with, I’ll always have the same feel no matter where I go. I love the consistency in an ever-changing lifestyle. I mean, I literally took my pillow all around Europe with me! And now I’ll be taking my sleep buds, too. Thanks, Bose!

Stoked to see Bose on the jacket this year! (photo from Reese Brown/SIA Images)

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 to ski right off the edge of the world.

Jumping over the mountain range! (photo from Jason Cork)

Enjoying a ski with Emily from the Canadian team before she flew home (photo from Jason Cork)

Because the Lord of the Rings were filmed here, duh! And one simply does not ski around the Snow Farm without listening to the theme song of the movies.

Feeling on top of the world! (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

Skiing up the tiered trails in “the glen”, near the Snow Farm lodge (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

Don’t get me wrong, we’re earning our stay here by putting in some serious hours on the snow, working hard at improving our technique. But it’s hard not to ski around smiling all the time, and when it’s this nice outside, hard work doesn’t feel so hard!

Hammering out some intensity work! (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

Loving a long ski up the “Kirsty Burn” loop! (photo by Kelsey Phinney)

Switching leads back and forth with Ida during intervals. We use each other to keep getting faster and better! (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

We’ve got an awesome training group here, and it’s the US Ski Team plus Stratton, and Craftsbury came in after a week.

Sophie, Katharine, Ida, Kelsey, me and Alayna! (photo from Sophie)

Sprinting it out, just because! (photo by Kelsey Phinney)

Snack and drink breaks on top of one of the most beautiful trails in the world! (photo by Kelsey Phinney)

Kelsey and Sophie goofing around

Me and Katharine on a sunset cruise (Kelsey Phinney took the photo)

Hi from Down Under!

Enjoying the sunshine and great skiing with Julia! (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

Loving a fun trail up on the Pisa Mountain range! (photo by Matt Whitcomb)

We also had an absolutely EPIC mountain run down in Wanaka last week. We ran 5 miles up into the mountains, then ran along the ridgeline for another hour or so, then ran back down. It was incredible views of Lake Wanaka on one side and Lake Hawea on the other, and being out in the mountains like that makes my soul happy.

The hike up was ridiculously cool (photo from Sophie)

Water breaks never looked so good! (photo from Sophie)

An awesome run from Glendhu Bay to Wanaka down below. (photo from Sophie)

LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION! (Photo from Sophie)

Then it was time for the Merino Muster! I love, love, love this race. It’s such a fun atmosphere and the conditions were incredible – fast snow and fun skiing the rolling courses. I did the 42km race again this year, and it was fun winning the women’s race and seeing Simi take the men’s title again. But the best part is that women and men all start together so we got to race against the guys, too! And unlike the World Cup, we’re racing the exact same distance, so that’s pretty awesome.

The group – before Craftsbury Green team got here, so now we have even more! (photo from Simi)

Tomorrow we start the New Zealand Winter Games races; a 5/10km individual start skate, a skate sprint and a 10/15km mass start classic race. I’ll race the 5km and 10km race and it should be fun getting back in touch with the shorter distance race feelings!

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 those of you reading and thinking “I’m not into science-y test stuff”, hang with me! It’s pretty straightforward. While breathing into a tube that measured the gases you breathe in and out, you’d roller ski on a treadmill that stayed at a fixed speed (pretty easy when it was flat), and every minute the incline would go up one percent. Obviously, I’m sure there’s a very long and very complicated scientific procedure and explanation for this test, but just go with me here, I’m not that far off.

~

The objective was to ski until exhaustion – until you couldn’t keep going. At some point, your body would reach it’s VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen your heart, lungs and muscles can process and use while exercising. Otherwise known as your personal measure of aerobic capacity. Otherwise known as The Test to determine if you will Win and Be Grand In Your Sport! Just kidding, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. But it can still be a fun number to find out.

Getting to help send off the younger SMS campers in style! (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

With the treadmill ratcheting upwards every minute, your outlook on life in general got worse and worse the longer you stayed on. Things went from “wow, this is SO easy. I’m amazing.” to “WHY am I even doing this, again? Why does it matter?” and finally to “I’m quitting this sport…as soon as I finish this test”. Funnily enough, the test was only about 11-12 minutes. You sure can pack a lot of agony and self-doubt into a short amount of time.

~

We were hooked up to a sort of climbing harness that would catch us when we fell off the back of the treadmill. And it was a point of pride to fall off the back. If you grabbed the bars at the top of the treadmill, you were SUCH a weenie, because you clearly could have kept battling it out until you slowly got pulled to the back of the huge treadmill.

~

The test was hard. It was SO hard. And the annoying thing is that you could quit whenever you wanted to. I mean, you were supposed to be tired, but even the worst actor among us could feign a collapse and fall off the back of the treadmill whenever you decided that enough was enough, you were DONE being a lab rat. But this is where our sport gets almost comical in the amount of pain we put ourselves through. Even though you could fake it and fall off or pretend to be 100% exhausted, you’d see people really truly run themselves into the ground way past the point where the VO2 max data had been collected.

~

I would refer to the VO2 max test as “the stubbornness test” for exactly this reason. The treadmill was going to win. It always wins. But you got to decide how long you wanted to hang on, even knowing the definitive outcome. That’s sort of messed up, you know? Messed up, or stupid, or brave, or sort of romantically poetic. However you want to look at it.

Seeing the campers faces light up when they passed around the Olympic medal was a really fun moment for me, because it only means something when you share it! (photo by George Forbes)

So why am I waxing nostalgic about the test that would haunt my nightmares? Because ever since the Olympics, I feel like my life is on the VO2 max treadmill (except not painful). It’s going by so quickly! I mean, this summer has absolutely flown by. It’s increasingly important as I desperately try to be a “real adult” to figure out that balance of ski training, life, and rest so that I can hang onto the treadmill of life as long as possible. And just like that darn treadmill test, when things feel stressful, I need to remember that it doesn’t last forever! 12 minutes on the treadmill can feel like eternity, and so can a hard or uncertain week in life, but that doesn’t mean I need to doubt myself. When I was younger I used to think “no way do the best skiers in the world ever have doubts or tough times! They probably have it all figured out!” NOPE. Everyone has moments where they’re still not sure they’re doing the right training, or balancing life quite as well as they’d like to. But the thing is, we’re all learning and growing day by day, getting better one step at a time.

This sweetheart of mine keeps me grounded when I start to get stressed.

One fun little detail that added a hurdle feature onto my treadmill happened last January, a month before the Games. My condo where I live in Stratton got flooded when a pipe burst in the floor above mine, so for about 3 days it “rained’ inside my place. Yikes! It had to get town down to the concrete slab and restored, and the ensuing battle with insurance to actually be paid the full amount has been an absolute nightmare…that is still ongoing. I had no idea how much stress that I could experience from this, but as it turns out, being an adult is straight up ridiculous. I eventually had to just laugh at myself. The good news is that I got to move into my place a few weeks ago, and Forbes Construction (based out of South Londonderry) did an absolutely amazing job! I love the new place, and while moving is exhausting both mentally and physically, I’m on the happy side of moving now.

Even if my life outside of training can feel a bit busy sometimes, this crew is the best and makes every day so motivating! (photo from Simi Hamilton)

So what did I learn from all this? As much as I’ve love to believe that I’m SuperWoman and I can handle anything, adding in the little “extras” that life throws at you (like moving) can mean that I have to find another way to restore the balance of training super hard and resting enough. It’s important to account for the little stressors that I can’t control, and focus on the things that I CAN control. So this summer has been testing my creativity and commitment to keeping that balance, which is a very good thing for me in the long run! And the treadmill of life is always going to be moving, so it’s important to relax and enjoy the ride!

Finding the balance between training hard and staying focused and also having fun and enjoying the ride!

And now I’m in New Zealand for a 3 week training camp, and although I’m here to ski my face off, it feels like a dream vacation! I’m ready for more “camp life”; the simple rhythm when we all train long hours twice a day, eat a ton of great food in between, and sleep as much as possible. I love getting to hang out with my teammates and I love the easygoing atmosphere of the Snow Farm. I love the countryside and mountains. I love the people. Good Lord, I’m ready to permanently move to New Zealand! I just love everything about that Country. I’ll be sure to take lots of photos so that my next blog will convince you, too, that you should be moving to NZ on the next available flight.

Loving the sunshine and mountains at the Snow Farm in New Zealand! (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

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 thought I’d do the tastefully nude shoot that shows off athlete’s muscles is because when I was younger, I struggled with a healthy body image. When I was 18-19 years old, I had everything in the world going for me, but I struggled with confidence and didn’t love myself. I suffered from an eating disorder, and eventually sought help at a treatment center, checking in for a summer program that saved my life. So when I was approached about the ESPN issue, I thought “is this REALLY something I want to do? Will it bring back old memories? Will I be ok with everyone seeing my body exactly as it is?”
~
And the answer was yes. I am so far recovered and removed from that period in my life that it can’t hurt me anymore. Internet trolls can’t hurt me either, I’ve had practice with those beauties for years! Realizing that I was confident enough in my own skin to say “yep, this is what training so many hours makes my body look like” was an amazing moment for me. While I’m realistically not going to love it every second of every day, I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of my fast legs, my strong arms, my core and my mental toughness that got me through the hardest time of my life. Posing for ESPN was a real full-circle moment for me, and a chance for me to use a large stage to waltz right up to the microphone and share a message that I think is extremely important, and long overdue.
~
We need to open up the conversation about body image, self confidence, and disordered eating. It should not be a shameful thing, or a taboo topic. It’s more prevalent than people think, and perhaps making help easier to find and less difficult to ask for could save some lives.

When you’re 5 years old, you’re never worried about what your body looks like. You just want to go FAST!

When I first joined the National Team, body image is something that was literally never talked about. Now, we try to make it an open conversation, just like how we share struggles with confidence in hitting the right training plan, or race day nerves. Body image is such a hard thing for people to talk about. And eating disorders carry this strange secrecy around them, a shameful taboo topic that really doesn’t need to be off-limits. Many people struggle with body confidence, and it’s not just “a girl thing”. I don’t know a single person on this planet who hasn’t, at some point, looked in the mirror and thought “darn it.”

Not every moment will look cool and put together.

 

Every role model you’ve ever had has struggled with something at some point in their life, whether you knew about it or not. Even the seemingly perfect fairy-tale lives have challenges and obstacles to hurdle over, or tunnel under. I think it’s important to share my story because when I was in the midst of my battle with an eating disorder, I needed to know that I was not alone. I needed to know that even my biggest heroes had challenges they faced and that if they could overcome them, then so could I.

I needed to never be afraid to just be ME, as wacky and goofy as I am.

 

I also want to be sure that my story is told the right way. The last thing I’d ever want is for a young skier struggling with body image to hear a rumor, and think that I came home from the Olympics with a medal because of disordered eating. On the contrary, getting help and becoming healthy again was the ONLY way I could have made it through the stress, pressure and expectations of the Olympics and the following spring. Without the confidence to say “I’m great as I am, thanks” I couldn’t have faced the media day after day and pursued my goals without feeling like I was about to crack into pieces.
~
On the outside, the year I graduated from High School was a perfect year for me. I was pulling straight A’s, loved playing violin in the school orchestra, had a great group of friends and was winning every ski race I entered. Hell, the one time they let me race with the boys I beat them, too! From the outside, it looked perfect. And that was the problem.
~
I’ve always been a “try-hard” girl, someone who tries maybe a little too hard to be perfect. When coaches give me feedback I’m more likely to over think it, asking so many questions that I might overshoot and miss the point entirely instead of just relaxing and giving it a shot. So when I felt like I needed to make sure I was doing everything 100% all the time, I started to feel like I was out of control. I would get really stressed, and the one thing I could hold onto was the numbing of stress that came along with my eating disorder. Even though I had never been more out of control in my life, I had the illusion of being in control of something, and I clung to that fiercely.
~
But people, you can’t give someone an eating disorder. You don’t get one from looking at photos of skinny, ripped athletes. Can it be a trigger for some people? Absolutely. But eating disorders are a type of addiction, a mental disorder, and as the saying goes: “genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger”. If you’re hard-wired to have an eating disorder, it’s nobody’s fault and most certainly not yours. It’s not something to be ashamed of, no more than struggling with anxiety or depression or a broken leg or a bruised elbow. It’s simply a really tough challenge that you’re facing at this point in your life, and something that you can get help with.

Having body issues is no more shameful than falling and getting hurt – it’s something you need help with to heal.

 

I finally, at my parent’s urging, sought some professional help. I checked into The Emily Program, a national leader in eating disorder treatment. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but also the most important. Because it saved my life, in every way that a life can be saved. I learned that I was struggling with this so much because I needed an outlet for stress, and that it was ok to feel a range of emotions – that I could survive feeling pressured, stressed, unhappy, sad, or angry as well as feeling happy-go-lucky.

My parents have always been there for me every step of the way, and they were amazingly supportive.

 

Once I grew into myself and let my body settle into where it was supposed to be, I grew into my confidence as well. I started getting faster, stronger, becoming a better racer. Instead of trying to change the shape of my body, I embraced my strengths and let my strong legs be the way they were meant to be. They carry me up the hills, but they also turned me into one of the fastest downhill cross country skiers on the circuit. I don’t always have great technique, but I am damn good at carrying speed on the flats and powering my way through transitions. I WOULDN’T be if I was trying to change the parts of me that make me fast. I also started to grow in my relationships, with my friends and with my boyfriends. I finally loved myself, so I could open up and just be me, and I had the power to love others more deeply and feel more connected.

I finally started to embrace my muscles and be proud of them, and the cool things they allowed me to do!

 

At the end of the day, dealing with an eating disorder is something that happened to me. It is not WHO I AM, and it does not define me. I am more complex than that.
~
On the flip side, winning the Olympics with my team is ALSO something that happened to me. But that moment does not define who I am. I am more complex than that.
~
The things I go through, both good and bad, do not define me. How I handle them and what I choose to do with my experiences will. I want to be known not for winning a medal, but for using it as a platform for things that I care about; climate change. Girls in sports. Raising our sport up and sharing it with more people to get them healthy and active. I want to be known not for going through an eating disorder, but for helping other women and men speak up when they need help and not feel judged for needing a friend to talk it through with.

Strong legs carry us up and over mountains, and allow us to enjoy incredible journeys.

 

These days, I literally cannot remember the last time I had to say “someone throw me a life preserver, here!” and that feels really good. Do I unconditionally love every single part of me, every day? No, don’t be ridiculous. I am always going to wish I had bigger biceps! But I appreciate and take care of my body for the ways that it is unique and fast and strong and beautiful, and I know that I will never look exactly like anyone else…and nobody else will look or feel or be exactly like me. And when you think about it, that’s pretty cool.

A healthy body lets me run for hours and hours (and hours) on end! (photo by Ophira Images)

 

So Coaches, Parents, Teammates, Friends, Significant Others….what can we do to be helpful? Unfortunately, there’s not one universal easy approach or fix, but the best thing you can be is compassionate and understanding. For me, the best help was to be able to talk about it with my parents and never feel ashamed or judged or like a failure, but instead feel heard and know that they were always going to be there to support me in my journey to get healthy again. Educate yourself on what it really means to have an eating disorder, and try to think about it as if you were in someone else’s shoes.
~
For me, it was never about food or really even about getting skinny. It was about feeling like I had control over something in my hectic, fast-paced life, feeling like I could turn to using symptoms of my eating disorder to numb myself and not have to feel the emotions that I was feeling. So instead of someone saying “you look too skinny” or “are you struggling with eating”, I needed someone to say “are you stressed right now? What needs to happen so that you can have less anxiety and put less pressure on yourself right now?”.

The anxiety from skydiving is NOTHING compared to the stress of learning how to accept yourself.

 

Statistically speaking, at least 6% of you reading this right now are struggling with disordered eating in some way. So to those of you for whom it feels like the end of the world, I can say this: it can, and it does, get better. I know, because I lived it. It will take more courage than most anything else in your life, but you can get better. And it’s worth it.

When you’re content with yourself, you can enjoy all the little moments that otherwise pass you by.

 

At the end of the day, the athletes that make up the World Cup are a group of human beings, not robots. We feel, we struggle, we triumph, we make friendships and we work hard. There are the amazing sports moments that bring countries to their feet but there are also struggles and hard-fought battles to win confidence and trust in ourselves. These battles are the ones you don’t see on camera, but they’re the most important ones.

Healthy and able to celebrate it!

 

Let’s try to focus not on what our bodies look like, but rather what they can DO. Because they can take us to some pretty amazing places. Our bodies can run us up and over mountains, ski us through awe-inspiring trail systems, and take us on some pretty sweet bike tours. If we can respect and take care of the body we have, we can have an amazing time in life.
Love,
Jessie

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 strength a couple times per week. We get to share fun drills that have helped us, make up some new slightly ridiculous drills, and get creative on ways to get better at balance and technique!

Sophie, Simi and Julia leading skate ski warmups with some fun partner band pulls! (photo from Sverre Caldwell)

Saturday morning saw some pretty hot and buggy ski walking/bounding intervals up Stratton Mountain, but luckily we have such a fun group to suffer with that nobody minded. And I had a little extra special happiness since Wade came over from Boston to join me for the entire training weekend!

Cork ready with the lactate testing kit at the top of my last interval (and Wade not shown but ready to keep the bugs off me while I gasped for air). (photo from Coach Pat)

We capped off this bigger week of training with a really fun roll-run combination workout. We started with a nice flatter double pole that ended with about 25 minutes of climbing up to the AT trail junction and Little Rock Pond.

Girls train rolling closer to the swimming hole! (photo from Coach Pat)

After switching to running gear (and eating a wide variety of snacks, including but not limited to banana bread slices) we ran a loop that went right through Little Rock Pond. Of course, the yearly cliff jumping into the cool water had to be carried out, and we all had some pretty unique styles!

Me, with the “coach, you said to get more forward!” jump (photo from Coach Pat)

Wade jumping in to join me (photo from Sverre)

Sophie with “the ninja” jump (photo from Coach Pat)

Paddy with “the flying squirrel” (photo from Coach Pat)

And Simi, making everyone else look like a fool with his sick flip-double-twist-McNugget tricks (photo from Sverre)

Nobody belly flopped, and we’re focusing on body care now that we have a day off before starting in on next week! And last but certainly not least…a Happy Father’s Day shoutout to all the rad Dad’s out there! Thanks for all you do for us, taking us to practices and races and helping us be better human beings every day.

Dad, with my sister Mackenzie in the backpack (and fashion-forward hat) and me, poking holes in the trail (in my very fashion-forward pants)

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 team! Another shoutout goes to all the junior skiers out on the trails with us. It was so cool seeing everyone working hard and not being afraid to jump in behind us and learn from the older skiers! Trust me, it’s fun for us too, to have younger athletes learning from us and hopping in the tracks.

Isabelle hopping in for some interval work. (photo from Bryan Fish)

When I was about 16 year old, I was at a camp in Lake Placid, NY at the Olympic Training Center. We were doing our intervals on the same hill as a few of the US Ski Team members, and we were told that if we wanted to we should hop in behind them. I jumped in behind Liz Stephen, who was doing smooth L3 intervals, and I was hammering away in what might have been the hardest interval of my entire life in order to stay with her. I was super self-conscious about breathing so hard behind her, but simultaneously thrilled to be skiing near her! At the end of the workout Liz turned around and said “hey, great job! It was really fun to have you ski with me”. It was just a few words, and a tiny sliver in time. But I kept those words with me the entire next 2 years. Whenever I’d do hard intervals, I’d pretend Liz was right in front of me, saying “Good job!” I wanted to be fast enough to ski with her someday and be her teammate. Those few words from a hero of mine motivated me for years…and 10 years later, I still remember that moment. As older athletes, coaches, parents or friends we sometimes forget the amazing power of just a few positive words, but the ripple effect from reaching out can be astounding. I know, because it was powerful for me.

Erik leading one of the younger skiers up the hill in V1 technique drills (photo from Bryan Fish)

Before we left camp, our strength coach Tschanna sent us an amazing article with a speech that Abby Wambach, US Soccer Player, gave. It focused on some awesome topics, but one line that really resonated with me was this:
~
“During that last World Cup, my teammates told me that my presence, my support, my vocal and relentless belief in them from the bench is what gave them the confidence they needed to win us that championship. If you’re not a leader on the bench, don’t call yourself a leader on the field. You’re either a leader everywhere or nowhere.”
~
I liked it because I have found that to be true in every team I’ve ever been on. It also emphasizes the importance of being there for your team, of taking the responsibility upon yourself to help lead from wherever you are.
~
Being fast doesn’t automatically make you a good leader.
Not winning doesn’t mean you aren’t winning in the ways that matter.
You don’t have to be the oldest person in the group to show leadership.
The oldest person doesn’t have to shoulder all responsibilities alone.
Bottom line is…YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION TO LEAD.
And you shouldn’t have to be asked.

Taking my turn to help lead the group interval workout (photo from Bryan Fish)

On our team, we don’t have a team captain. That is intentional. It takes everyone contributing their own unique style of leadership to make the team function, and it’s not right – nor is it as effective – to put the title of “team leader” on one set of shoulders alone.

Sophie leading the pack of girls in L3 skate intervals like a boss! (photo from Bryan Fish)

We also don’t build the team around one person, because we are trying to create a solid foundation, not a house of cards. If you build a team around one individual and they are suddenly gone, the entire team will collapse, and if it does, then you never had anything real to begin with. But if a team is built collectively with every single member feeling ownership and responsibility to contribute, then when you remove people here and there you still have a team the survives, that thrives, and that lasts long after we’re gone.

Matt putting the fun into our last long workout of the camp when we were all pretty tired! (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

Find your own style of leadership. Figure out what your strengths are, and use them. You don’t have to be the big loud cheerleader if that’s not your style. You don’t have to be the logistics manager and meeting note-taker if that’s not your forte. You just have to be yourself, and share yourself with the team. Because who you are is enough. Be present. Be part of the group. When you care about the group, it shows and helps lift the team up.

Scott, Erik and Torch working together to get faster (and Chris coaching)! (photo from Bryan Fish)

You also don’t have to be best friends with everyone on the team. Frankly, that’s totally unrealistic. Like any family, within a team people’s little quirks and habits can start to drive each other nuts. But just because you might not naturally be “besties” with someone doesn’t mean you can’t find things about them you respect. And if there’s something they do that’s really bugging you, have the courage to address it and give some constructive feedback. If it’s something they can’t change, then find a way to move on. Communicating openly and honestly is the number one way I’ve seen to prevent little annoyances from stewing and bubbling over, and becoming bigger than they need to be.

You don’t have to be best friends…although sometimes you just end up finding people you love hanging out with! (photo from Kevin Bolger)

A good leader also knows when to be an advocate for others and take care of the group, but also when to take care of themselves. As the airlines always say; “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others”. If you’re not taking good care of yourself, how can you take good care of your teammates? For me, I am STILL trying to figure out how to say “sorry, I can’t” sometimes…because when I say “yes” to everything, I become burned out and then I’m of no help to anyone!

Simi and Gus working on speeds (photo from Bryan Fish)

I’m so excited about the team that we have here because everyone is excited, working hard, and working together. We have a huge development team with so much energy and leadership of their own, and seeing everyone come together made me so excited about the year ahead.

Lots of younger skiers out loving the skiing, too! (photo from Bryan Fish)

Me, running like a bear is after me (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

A typical day of training in Bend, for those of you who are going “this team stuff is so cute, Jessie, but TELL ME ABOUT THE TRAINING, DARN IT!” looks like this:
6:00am: alarm goes off. I’m not a early morning person. Actually…I’m just not a morning person. Period. So this is a hard one for me. Thank goodness for coffee!
~
7:00am: Team loads up the skis, poles and backpacks into the van and drives up to Mt. Bachelor. Before starting our ski, we have a quick team meeting to go over what we’re working on for the day and watch some technique video.
~
7:45-10:15am: Skiing! Most mornings we ski for 2.5 hours, but each individual adjusts that to their own needs. We will usually ski easy distance at this camp, just getting a lot of volume, but in the middle of the workout we will spin shorter loops, working on specific technique drills with the coaches.

Working on speed! (photo from Bryan Fish)

11:30: Eat a huge lunch. It’s so important to fuel enough to sustain this load of training, and a huge thanks to Chef Allen from the ski team who cooked for us this camp so we could focus on training and sleeping as much as possible!
~
1:00pm: take a nap. I’m not usually a big napper, but this camp takes a lot out of me so I need to make sure I’m resting as much as I’m training! I’d easily sleep for around 1.5 hours if I had the time every day.

A gorgeous part of our last running loop (photo from Kelsey Phinney)

3:30pm: depart for afternoon training. This was either a 1.5 hour run or bike, or a lift at the gym with our ski team strength coach, Tschanna! If it was a lift, we’d warm up for half an hour then spend about an hour in the gym with Tschanna, working to build strength not only in our “skier muscles” but the opposing muscle sets so that we don’t get injured.

Kelsey and I being tree-huggers on a long run (photo from Matt Whitcomb)

6:30pm: Eat a huge dinner. Yum.
~
9:00pm: Get into bed! I normally need around 9 hours of sleep a night (but I’ll gladly take 10 when I’m training a lot) so getting as much sleep as possible is crucial at this camp.

A little cold water dunk can REALLY help you sleep hard at night!

Now I’m flying back to Stratton, Vermont, where I’ll spend the month of June getting in a solid block of training with my SMST2 teammates!

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 for the causes I care the most about. Which is the best thing ever.

Trading the medal for a bouquet at the Afton event last Saturday! (photo from John Kaul)

I’d have to say the very best thing that happened out of all my time at home was that I got to help grow excitement and find the right sponsors to partner with the Loppet Foundation as we put in a bid to host the first World Cup event in the USA in 17 years! All the hard work paid off, and just this week our bid was scheduled for a race in March of 2020, in the Twin Cities. I got the email before training two days ago and spent the following 10 minutes jumping around my kitchen whooping and hollering, I was so excited! Of course, the exact race format and date may change as we move closer, so we are trying not to count our chickens before they hatch. But this is an incredible first step towards building cross country skiing in the US!

Signing a Birkie bib for an up and coming skier at a Fastenal event in Winona, MN! (photo from Heidi Wisniewski)

I am so, so proud of all the work that the Loppet Foundation has taken on and so extremely grateful to all the companies that are signing on to sponsor the event. More to come on this later, but for now it’s enough to say that it means the world to me that all the junior skiers all over the US will have the chance to finally see their heroes racing right in front of them, at the highest level of racing in the World. What better way to inspire the next generation, than to bring their heroes right to them so they can have a front row seat to the World Cup races? And personally, I’m so excited to finally be able to race at the World Cup level in my home country for the first time in my life!

These ski fans are ready to come cheer for a World Cup!

The other thing I’m extremely proud of has been becoming Protect Our Winters newest ambassador. On April 25th, I took a day trip to D.C. to address climate change with members of Congress alongside fellow Olympians and representatives from Protect Our Winters and the Citizens Climate Lobby. One week after our visit, one of our Minnesota Representatives changed his stance on climate and joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, a huge step! Actions like this make me feel hopeful for our future, and make me realize what a huge impact our voices have when we decide to use them. I wrote a blog about the trip for Protect Our Winters, and here’s the link if you’d like to give it a read!  https://protectourwinters.org/with-a-medal-in-my-pocket/

Ready to go make a difference. (photo by ElyseesEye Productions)

But hey! Don’t worry, I’m still putting training and my team commitments first. Somehow I’ve managed to squeeze in twice a day training while at home this May. April was my month off, and here’s exactly what I did with it, training-wise. The first two weeks I made myself take the time completely off from anything I would even remotely consider training. And you know what? That’s hard for me! I’m a really active person and I love doing things all the time. But after a long season of racing and traveling and training so hard I wanted to make sure my body truly has a chance to recover, and absorb all that hard effort. So every year I don’t do anything more physically active than the 10 minutes it takes me to bike over to join my boyfriend for lunch in the downtown Boston park. It also means that mentally I have a full break from training, and when it’s time to get going again, my body tells me.
One morning mid-April I woke up and realized that what I really wanted to do was go to the gym and lift weights. So, Wade and I went to the gym! The next day I decided it would be really fun to “play” tennis. I use quotation marks here because I am actually the absolute worst at tennis so we can’t really play the game well, but hey, it’s still fun! The second two weeks of April I spent my time doing whatever I thought would be fun that day. If it was raining and gross outside and I didn’t want to go be active, I didn’t! Because there will be plenty of times later this spring and summer when it’s horrible weather outside and I’ll have to go get my training done regardless. So it’s important to me to keep April fun and free and spontaneous. Then May 1st I started up with official training again, but the plan Cork writes for me started nice and easy, with something like 4×4 minutes level 3 for my first interval set. To put that in perspective, later in the summer I’ll be doing more like 5×10 minutes level 3. It’s important to ease into things, not give myself an overuse injury or burn out!

I always start my L3 intervals solo in the spring to make sure I’m going the right pace for my body. (photo from Kris)

If you want to impress me, don’t tell me how many hours you’re training. Frankly, I don’t care. Tell me about the volunteer work you’re doing coaching little kids. Tell me about the time you realized you were getting sick, so you DIDN’T go to practice and do intervals. Tell me about how you compare technique ideas with your teammates, not training logs. Tell me about the time you truly went your own pace in Level 3 intervals, instead of racing your teammates and going too hard. It’s not difficult for me to put in a lot of hours training, but it is tricky to find the line between recovering and training smart, and not cross that line. The athletes I’ve always been most impressed by are the ones that stick up for what their body needs in training, and feel confident following their plan. We shouldn’t all be training the same hours and doing the exact same plan, because we are different individuals with different body responses to training! So one of my goals going forward is to feel confident in doing what my body needs, whether that is backing off on the training plan for the day if I’m feeling tired and on edge, adding a little volume if I’m absorbing all the training, or doing L3 intervals on my own in order to truly go my own pace.

At the game with Danielle, Andy and Erika! (photo from Chelsey Falzone)

I spent the first two weeks of May with my family in Minnesota, and it was great getting to roller ski once again. It feels so strange the first few steps on roller skis! They’re so short compared to skis! I got to ski over all my favorite loops and interval hills on my old stomping grounds, and go for long runs in the Afton State Park. I was often joined by my high school coach Kris and her daughter Siri, my Mom on her bike, or my high school friends so it was easy to stay excited and motivated, sharing the hard work of training with others.

Siri and I (and Kris, who took the photo) out for my first roller ski of the season!

Mom and me at the Twins game!

On Saturday the 12th we had the big “Jessie Diggins day” in Afton, Minnesota! There were a couple thousand people there to celebrate cross country skiing, try the new ice cream flavor the local shop named after me, and get a poster. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t pick the flavor but it’s delicious – vanilla with strawberry and blueberry fruit swirls, served with gold sprinkles. It’s been so much fun getting to share the excitement of the past winter with the ski community I grew up with! Seeing the faces of young skiers as they get to hold the Gold Medal is priceless, and also the best feeling ever. You can practically see their goals getting set, their excitement to get outside and get rocking and rolling with their teammates growing.

Some up and coming skiers setting their goals high! (photo from John Kaul)

Wade riding in the truck with me as I came down Main Street. It was so special to have him there! (photo from Kris Hansen)

I had such a blast getting to throw the (ceremonial, of course!) first pitch for the Minnesota Twins team. To be totally honest, my hand-eye coordination is TERRIBLE and I am such a poor throw that my boyfriend Wade took me out to the field near his house in Boston for throwing lessons, because I was so nervous! And I have to say, he’s one amazing coach. Not that I’m biased, of course. But he helped me get the basics so that I actually made it to the plate…against all reasonable expectations I had for myself. I just wanted to do better than Fifty-Cent’s throw.

Oh, no. The “focus face” is on. (photo from the Twins)

To wrap up a great visit home, I went to speak to my old High School, Stillwater. It was so fun to come back after eight years, and get to inspire and hopefully motivate the current group of students! It was also such a treat to see my teachers and get to share the medal with them, because after all, they’re the ones who helped me catch up with all my homework when I was flying around the World for ski races all year long!

Happy to say a few words and share what skiing has taught me with the upcoming graduating classes!

I look like I’m still in high school, so I fit right in!

Right now, I’m in New Orleans for a day with the Smuckers company, before flying on to Bend, Oregon for our first US team camp of the season! I’m so, so excited to see my SMS T2 teammates, my national team teammates, and all the coaches. I really miss everyone when we’re going our separate ways in the spring, so it’s going to be good to get the crew back together. Check back soon for updates from Bend!

Fueling up with beignets and jazz music before a long run in the hot sun through the French Quarter!

So beautiful!

Music on every corner.

Things I learned

I’m still learning how much racing and training my body can handle during the season. It’s such a fine line! A little too much and you’re too tired and can start racing “flat”, which isn’t a fun feeling. It feels like no matter how hard you push, you can’t get your body to cooperate and go with you, and you’re missing that last racing gear. At the same time you don’t want to miss any more races than you need to. Racing is so much fun! It’s addicting, and it’s hard to step away for a break even when you know it’s the right call.

Racing for the first time since the Olympics in Drammen, Norway (photo by Ophira Group)

 

What I’m learning is that every year as I get older and add a few hundred hours of training under my belt, my body can handle more and more. After I peak for the championships, I’m more likely to be able to keep racing and riding that wave before I crash. My body will let me do more races without burning itself out. That said, as I was slumped in my seat on the airplane back to the states, my body was WRECKED. I had a deep, come-from-my-toes cough that we call “race hack”…which happens to most racers after a hard effort. I’d managed to become the person that I’d absolutely loathe sitting next to on a plane – the one who’s coughing so hard that their whole body shakes, and you’re sitting there terrified of getting whatever is is they have. I felt the need to explain that I’m not actually sick to my seat mates so I didn’t scare them, but then again, it appears that most people aren’t germ freaks the way skiers are. Amazing.

Racing the Holmenkollen! It was awesome, but the bonfire smoke gave me a cough that lasted 2 weeks.

Working closely with Cork, my coach who writes my training plan, we’re also getting much better at finding the edge before I get too tired and not crossing it! I haven’t always been great at listening closely to what my body is telling me in the past. And yeah, sometimes you just have to suck it up and get things done, like going out for a long training run in the rain and mud when you’d rather be curled up on the couch. On the flip side, there’s the times when you need to realize when your body is off, and react accordingly by being flexible and confident enough in your training to adjust it so that you don’t burn yourself out. Have I nailed this process? Gosh, no! Of course not! But I’m getting a little bit better at it every year, and that’s making a huge difference.
Looking back on the year, I had no idea I could come so close to the Overall Crystal Globe. I mean…what? 40 points? Yikes! That’s so exciting. I had no idea that my body would be able to just keep riding the peak it had from the Olympics and let me keep racing at that level through the last month of World Cup. But man, was it ever fun.

It was so amazing getting to podium at World Cup finals with Marit and Sadie! (photo from Event Bilder)

It would be so easy to immediately turn around and start saying “if only I hadn’t skipped this race to rest” or “if only I had finished just a few places higher in a few races this year”. But the truth is, I don’t think I would have changed anything about the way my coach and I planned out the season. Had I not chosen to sit out Lahti, for example, when I was mentally and physically exhausted, I very well may not have had good races the rest of the season. Or maybe I would have. The point is, we’re never going to know, so it doesn’t help to dwell on it! I’m not going to spend any time beating myself up for not achieving ALL of my career goals in a single winter.

Racing to fastest time of day in Falun in our last World Cup of the year! (photo from Event Bilder)

I’m psyched, and focused on the fact that I’m leaving this season so motivated for years to come, because now I know that some of the very biggest dreams are well within reach.

Chasing down those goals! (photo from Event Bilder)

This year World Cup finals was really bittersweet because it was the last career World Cups for 3 of my teammates, and Andy’s last official season on the US Ski and Snowboard Team. Noah Hoffman, Liz Stephen, Andy Newell and Kikkan Randall have all been on the US Ski Team since I learned what that was and decided that I desperately wanted to be part of it. The incredible camaraderie, fun-loving attitudes and work ethic of this team is what drew me to it in the first place, and seeing my teammates retire is kind of rocking my world.

The last time the group was together – Holmenkollen weekend!

I really struggled with this in the summer when they told us that it would be their last year. I mean, I’ve known them since I was 18 years old, and I’ve spent the last 8 years on the road with them, seeing my teammates more than my family or even my boyfriend! And suddenly, I won’t get to have them around all the time to hang out with, laugh with, bounce ideas off of, share the tough moments with, and be able to be there for them? It’s a hard shift anytime the makeup of a team changes, but it’s easier to add people rather than take them away. That said, I’m so excited for all four of them and I know their next moves in life will be amazing ones, because of the people they are.
Noah picked the 50km at Holmenkollen to be his last race, and wow, was it ever epic. It’s also a very cool thing that Noah, alongside Liz, Kikkan and Andy, got to pick their last races and go out on their own terms. Sometimes the end of your career is decided for you, and I’m so happy for them that they got to say “ok, now it’s time, and I’m walking out happy with how my career has gone”.
As far as World Cup atmosphere is concerned, there are a few venues that really stand out. Ulricehamm took us all by surprise when, in their first ever World Cup, there were fans 10 deep along the entire 10km course. It was a tunnel of screaming sports fans, and it made you feel like such a hero even if all you were doing was warming up! Drammen and Falun always have thousands of fans, and again, you’re faced with a wall of noise that lifts you up and can inspire some amazing performances. But the Holmenkollen is it’s own special place, and it’s basically a national holiday. I’m not exaggerating!

Sadie, Sophie and I doing race prep hours before the men’s race…and people were streaming out of the woods from every direction to come cheer! So fun!

It’s also way more fun if you happen to be a man. Ever since they stopped racing the men and women in the same day, they decided to put the men first on Saturday and the women on Sunday. And as everyone knows, you can only have so much party stamina when you’re camping friday night and cheering like crazy on saturday during the day, and, um, drinking some fun drinks while you cheer. So whomever has to race Sunday gets 1/100 of the crowd. I’ve asked more than a few times for men and women to alternate race days every year.
But I digress. This was Hoff’s day!
We came out to cheer for all the men on Saturday in Oslo, but it was especially emotional seeing Hoff’s last race. He was high-fiving us along the course on his last loop, and on the bridge above the stadium we made a tunnel of high fives for him. Right before he dropped into the final 100 meters for the last time Noah came to a stop to hug his Dad and literally EVERYBODY was crying. They played “Born in the USA” as Noah skied to the finish line and then the whole team was there to hug him and wish him well. When I retire someday, I hope it can be even half as epic.

Sending Hoff off in style!

Liz and Kikkan raced their last races in Craftsbury with the 30km US Nationals race. It was a gorgeous day and getting to hug them after the finish line brought so many emotions, but no more tears (those happened earlier in the year). We’ve had the entire year to come to grips with this and now I’m just excited to see them off on their next big moves! And Andy I’m certain I’ll see this winter as he decides where to go with the races he’d like to do. I’ll be supporting him no matter where he chooses to go!

Erika and I sharing some finish line hugs with Liz in Craftsbury (photo from Reese Brown)

From my SMST2 club team, Anne Hart is also retiring and moving on to law school. As her roommate all last summer, teammate of many years and high school racing buddy, I can say with absolute certainty that whatever “Goobie” tackles, she’s going to give it 100% and find success with it. I’m proud of her career and all the amazing moments she has gifted our team with!

The SMST2 girls at Spring Series – me, Julia, Anne (Goobie) in the middle, Sophie and Erika (photo from Reese Brown)

You won’t always be winning. That’s just a fact. Eventually you get older, retire, move on to the next thing, so you can’t dominate a sport forever. The real difference is what you leave behind when you go. You can be the person who creates a movement that lives – and dies – with you, or you can create a legacy that will last long after you move on to the next career. You can be the reason someone else finds success, even if it means that the kid you’re giving a leg up to might beat you someday.

Getting a finish line hug from Marit, another amazingly classy lady who has pushed the sport forward and shared so much with her team! (photo from Event Bilder)

That’s the real magic of what Liz and Kikkan, Noah and Andy have done here. Not only did they find success as individuals in their sport, but they were able to do what many athletes struggle with and step outside their own egos, openly sharing everything they’d learned to the next generation of aspiring skiers. Every one of them, alongside the current members of the team, have contributed in amazing ways to each other’s careers. They’ve helped create this culture on our team where we lift each other up instead of fighting to be the best among ourselves. They cemented a team atmosphere that makes little kids like me desperately want to be on the ski team! So a big, huge thank you to these friends, teammates and heroes of mine as they tackle their next adventures.

Getting a photo with these inspirations of mine! Bill Koch, and Andy Newell.

This spring has been a continuation of the whirlwind that started the moment I crossed the finish line in that team sprint with Kikkan. It’s been fast, it’s been furious, it’s been fun! And it’s been exhausting, too. It’s always been very, very difficult for me to say “no”, even when I have to. But this spring I’ve come face to face with the fact that there is no possible way for me to honor even 1/10th of the requests that have come in, no matter how much I would love to.

Wade and I getting snuggles from Leo during my brief stay back home in Minnesota!

Going for an adventure hike on my morning off with the Bohacek/Hansen family! (photo from Kris)

Which is why I’ve put so much energy and time into this process of getting a bid to host a World Cup in 2020 in Minneapolis, because that’s how I can reach the largest number of aspiring skiers and help to inspire them, and show them what it is they can be working towards. There’s an entire generation of skiers who have never seen a World Cup race live, because we’ve never hosted one! It’s time for that to change.

Speaking at a press conference while visiting the House of Representatives at the Capitol.

My family with Minnesota Governor Dayton (photo from the Governor’s office)

Sharing my experiences, hopes and goals with the ski community and next generation of skiers in Minnesota! (photo by Bruce at Skinnyski.com)

In my short visit home to Minnesota this April, I got the chance to thank as many members of the ski community as I could. Stillwater threw a parade honoring myself and the three State Champion teams that season – the Cross Country girls, Alpine girls and Gymnastics girls.

Parade time! (photo by Carl Bohacek)

High-fiving the Stillwater community where I went to high school! (photo from Carl Bohacek)

My family, friends and sponsors threw an amazing Welcome Home event and I gave away about 600 posters, got a photo with everyone, and got the chance to share stories and photos from the Olympics!

Getting the chance to thank everyone for their support! (photo by Bruce at Skinnyski.com)

I also visited my elementary school, Valley Crossing, and on the way out of the gym every kid in school got a chance to hold the gold medal. One of my goals is to share this thing as much as possible…because otherwise, what’s the point? Why bother to win at all if you don’t share it with anyone?

Before they left the gym, every kid in school got a chance to check out the medal. (photo from Amie Schroeder)

Back in the gym at Valley Crossing…only a little bit older now, and with a medal to share! (photo from Amie Schroeder)

Before I left, I got to do the “let’s play hockey!” call for the Wild at their first home playoff game. What a blast! The energy in the stadium was electric. My boyfriend Wade and I cheer for opposing teams so it was a pretty funny situation in the stadium. 🙂

Jets vs. Wild (we crushed that night).

Now I’m in Boston with Wade, starting to get back into doing active things when my body tells me it’s time, and enjoying watching other athletes crush their playoff games while my body is resting and healing itself!

When you get invited to a Celtics game and they give you a jersey…you rock it! (don’t worry, sports fans, I’m still supporting my Minnesota teams too).

Looking back on the Games

I tagged Kikkan, pulling my arms above my head and gliding straight to protect myself and my poles from any tangles or crashes. Turning a 180 around the fence surrounding the pit crews, I was still gliding towards Jason and Marek, our techs, when I leaned down and unclipped my bindings, hopping off my skis as they were still moving, jumping right into a jog. They each caught a ski and immediately clamped them to the bench, furiously re-applying powder and brushing them out in under 2 minutes as Kikkan skied her lap. It was an incredibly efficient system, the pair of them working seamlessly as a team. I loved the little details of how the team worked together, fitting all the moving parts into place like cogs on a watch without missing a single beat.

Getting the tag from Kikkan!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Every time I came into the pits, that was our routine – I’d unclip and jump off my skis before I’d even stopped moving, and go right into a jog to shake my legs out. I loved it so much I actually giggled. This was arguably the most important race of my life, but somehow amidst all the craziness, I was having FUN. There have only been a few times in my life when I’ve felt unstoppable, like nothing could possibly go wrong that day. This was one of those times.
Don’t let the ear-to-ear grin fool you, though. When I am smiling and bouncing up and down is also when I’m at my most dangerous. I’m just happy enough to be able to will myself to suffer the way nobody else can.

Happy and ready to go! (photo by Flying Point)

I guess I could back up a little bit. The team sprint prep started…well…technically, it started years and years ago because in our sport, you need thousands of hours of training to build up that fitness base. But for the sake of your sanity, let’s jump in at the day before the team sprint.

The coaches named the team only a few days out, and that’s a really hard process for everyone. The Olympics bring so much inspiration and emotion, and with that emotion comes absolute heartbreak in unexpected places. I love and care about my teammates the way I do with my own sister, and before this story goes any further it needs to be said that Sadie Bjornsen is an absolute champion. As first alternate she handled the heartbreak with more grace and poise than many people would, and she was so supportive throughout the entire process. There were so many girls on this team who could have skied those legs with equal finesse, tactics and strength, and it’s important to me that you all know that. Because the most important legs of the relay aren’t the ones skiing on the snow – it’s the teammates who are cheering on the side of the fence, ready to tear the boards off, cheering in absolute support of the team effort.

The girls, ready to march in Opening Ceremonies. Keeping the vibe positive and happy from day one!

We’ve always said that any medal we win – whether it’s a team event or an individual one – would belong to the entire team, because nobody ever accomplishes anything alone in life. It’s taken years of every member of this team committing to the team goals, coming to training camps and pushing each other through grueling training sessions. Everyone has bought into the team fully, knowing that they’re working for something bigger than themselves. I know my teammates have my back the way I have theirs, and it’s ridiculous that the medal stand isn’t large enough to bring up all the people that should be up there with us.

Couldn’t fit everyone in the photo, but here’s a few of the amazing people that made it happen! (photo from Flying Point)

So the day before the team sprint, we did what we do best. We attacked race prep as a team, doing 2 laps of the course in a team sprint simulation with all the other girls pushing Kikkan and I, challenging us in the tag zone to make a clean and efficient tag among other skiers. Liz wore a balaclava even though it was warm out to make us laugh. She also took off at lightning speed to tag Matt who was her partner (yup, the coaches were in on the team sprint too!) and as she approached he turned to Sadie and I with a straight face and said “well…picture me rolling!” and took off in his classic boots on skate skis. The whole thing was awesome all the way around, and I laughed so hard that it took many of the pre-race nerves away. Not all of them, though.

Sadie sporting the relay day face paint and glitter!

The day of the team sprint we did what was now the usual routine at the village; sleep in until 10:30am (we were on the night train to adjust to racing so late in the day), have the team pre-race meeting, go for a run on the golf course trails outside the athlete village. Because it’s so hard for me to digest food close to race time, I would just eat an incredibly dense breakfast twice. Kikkan and I watched our favorite “Glee” song mashups and, yes, sang along. Adorkable. On the bus to the venue I turned on my headphones and bumped the Shakira station. Just try listening to the dance beat on that station and not feel happy, I dare you.

How I USUALLY show up at the venue…bags everywhere. (photo from Sadie)

In my mind, I was running through every possible scenario. I’d spent a lot of time visualizing the course, how I would ski it, when to switch techniques, what line to take on the downhill and the best places to pass people. By the time I was warming up for the race, I had run through 20 different ways the finals could go down in my mind, so that for every possible situation I’d have a ready response. In team sprinting, you have to be willing to adjust your strategy on the fly. Kikkan and I both knew our respective jobs: as leg 1, her job was to remain in contact with the lead pack at all times. As anchor, my job was to conserve energy at the start and figure out how to maneuver into first place by the finish.
We did our usual warmup, and I tested skis with Jason Cork, my coach but also my tech. He’d been working hard with the Salomon reps and narrowed down many pairs of skis to the final 6 pairs for me to test. One of the coolest things I think Salomon did for their athletes at the games was that the year before, at the test event in PyeongChang, they tested many different ski grinds and types of construction and base materials. They figured out the best kind of ski for the snow at the venue there, and when I arrived at the Olympics they had new skate and classic skis at our cabin that were made just for me, for that specific race. Just another amazing example of just how much hard work from so many different people lead up to that day! Our wax techs tested so many different combinations of waxes, toppings and applications that it made me head spin hearing about it. And they nailed it!

Getting to give Cork a great big hug after the race!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

In the semifinal, I was absolutely stoked with how things played out. Despite getting the random draw into the second semi which meant much less rest, we were able to move through the heat and conserve as much energy as possible. Every lap in the semi was a test run for me; I was taking notes on how our skis stacked up against the field (they were amazing), how other girls were skiing the final downhill, and when and where people were getting tired.
We got ready for the final, and nerves were high. I’d also never felt more fired up and ready to just go out there and do what I love! When the gun went off, I was surprised with how chill lap one felt. We were all feeling each other out that first time around. I came jogging over to Grover, our head coach who was in the pit box with us, and told him I thought there were too many people in the lead pack. I said I wanted to start dropping people and I was going to push the pace on lap two, and did he think that was a good idea? Yes. He did.

Heading out hard!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

After lap two I tagged Kikkan off and yelled “YOU CAN DO IT KIKS!!!!” I was so excited I had goosebumps all over. We were down to three teams, and I knew as I jogged around ready for the final lap that we were going to get a medal. I knew I was in the best shape of my life and I thought I’m going to go out as hard as I can and try to wear everyone out, because that’s my only chance of winning a sprint out”. Luckily, I wasn’t focused on the fact that I was going up against the current Olympic sprint champion and the reigning World Championship sprint winner. I was just so focused on the task at hand and getting my job done.

Kikkan making a good clean tag!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

 

On the final big climb, I had a choice to make. I was positioned on the outside and I could either surge ahead to try and be the first one over the top and into the downhill, or I could pull back a tiny bit and be in third position going into the downhill. I decided to pull back. Downhills are one of my biggest strengths (XC only, I am totally helpless and hopeless on alpine skis) and I wanted to be in the draft. I also wanted to be the one doing the passing, as there’s some psychological advantage to being on the hunt verses being the one hunted down. There was a really sketchy moment when all three of us swung wide out of the corner and I almost didn’t make it back onto the course before the v-boards began. Then I had to put my hands up as I almost caught a few pole tips to the face. But I still had a little more energy to burn so as we rounded the corner I gave it everything I had. A lot of people have asked me what I was thinking in those final hundred meters and the truth is, I don’t really remember! I was so in the zone that the only thing I could focus on was each push of my skis, every plant of my poles, and putting every bit of energy and power I had into going forward. I didn’t even hear the crowd! When we got to the line I threw my foot out and out of the corner of my eye I could see Stina lunge, too.

Final 100 meters.
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

I knew I’d gotten across first. I remember feeling kind of weirdly numb, like it wasn’t really happening.

This feeling…
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

When Kikkan tackled me I asked her “did we just win the Olympics?!?!?” She was screaming and half-crying and that’s when it started to sink in.

Trying to process what had just happened! (Cody Downard photo)

But the moment I’m always going to remember is when we finally got up and saw our team alongside the boards right at the finish line. Everyone was crying, laughing, screaming…there was no way to really process what had just happened!

This moment was the best feeling ever!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Getting to hug the team and see the emotion and fierce happiness on everyone’s faces made it finally feel real to me. I have to say, there’s something wickedly wonderful about making grown men cry tears of happiness. The girls from every other team came to hug us as well, which was a really amazing feeling. It was like the whole world was celebrating with us! I’ve been lucky enough to make good friends on every team and it’s been so fun to share the ups and downs of ski racing with them, as we all know what each other is experiencing.

Happy tears with Liz (Noah Hoffman photo)

Getting congrats from the other girls – although clearly, I’m still out of it!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

My family was there – my Mom, Dad, sister, grandmother, aunt, uncle and my boyfriend Wade. Getting to hug them right after the race was another big flood of emotion! I didn’t even know how to process what was happening. And so began the whirlwind.

A photo from earlier in the week of my support crew! Auntie Holly, Wade, Uncle Blair, my Dad, Meme, Mom and Sister.

We were pulled one way for the flower ceremony, then the media began. Then anti-doping (I was tested 5 times during the games), then a press conference, then the Today Show and more media. We got home well after midnight! At some point someone sat me down and put a piece of pizza in my hand, which felt like the kindest gesture in the world. Then it was time to still celebrate what we had accomplished, but also figure out how to focus in again for the last event of the games. I wasn’t done racing yet!

Getting a hug from Wade right after the race! (Cody Downard photo)

But wait! The Olympics weren’t just centered around the team sprint, although of course that was the absolute highlight! I raced in every single XC event at the games, and when I got curious I added it up and realized I got to race 77 kilometers around those trails. No wonder I feet the need for chocolate every few hours since leaving Korea.

Dancing on the medals stand. Sorry, not sorry for that!
Photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

It was an ambitious schedule. I was unsure if my body could handle being pushed so hard every 2-4 days. I was unsure if my mind could handle that, as well! I wanted to do it anyways. There wasn’t a single race I wanted to give up! So headed into the Games, the plan was to keep checking in with my body every day, play it race by race, and keep putting everything I had into each race day.
But…“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try”

My big wall of happy above my bed, filled with good luck pictures and notes from home!

It was such a fun ride, getting to race so many different styles of events. Being mere seconds out of a medal (twice) wasn’t the anguish and heartbreak that people expected it to be, because I knew I had given it my very best shot! And when you’ve done everything you can, you have to be able to walk away proud of your effort and happy with it. The cliff notes on the other 5 races I got to compete in are as follows:
15km Skiathlon: I was so nervous for this one, because it was the first race. But I struggled immensely with cramping in my arms halfway through the skate portion, and couldn’t seem to keep my body and form together no matter how hard I tried! I pushed my hardest and was still happy with 5th place.

Really, really tired after that skiathlon!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Classic Sprint: If you had told me a year ago that I’d make the Olympic classic sprint final, I would have laughed and said “don’t be mean, it’s not nice to make fun of me”. Miraculously, my classic technique came around just in time for a year full of classic sprints! I burned a lot of matches just making it to the final and by the time I came out of the second semi and was starting, I was out of energy. Still, I was psyched to have made it in there!

Classic striding it out! (photo from Jesse Vaananen)

10km skate: I knew I was fighting for the podium the entire race. And I felt like I was sprinting the entire race! I couldn’t have gotten anything more out of my body, and I knew it when I crossed the finish line. The coolest part was knowing that I was so close to bronze, and skiing virtually the same race as these girls who’ve dominated the sport! It gave me confidence and reassured me that I was on track and skiing well. Which is probably the opposite reaction you’d usually see in the first person off the podium. I’m weird like that.

The cheering at the Chilkoot cafe in the middle of the night! I got this after my first race, and it really made my day.

4x5km relay: The morning of the race we went for a team jog, did the team dance that I’d taught everyone this fall on the road, and shared a lot of laughs. The vibe was great and our team chemistry has grown from everyone putting so much of themselves into the team. So even though we were out of the hunt, we all went out charging and fiercely skied our respective relay legs. We shared a special moment after I crossed the finish line, and even though we didn’t medal, having the team run out there to huddle up was one of the most meaningful moments of the Games. I won’t tell you what we said – that’s staying between us – but I CAN tell you that not getting what you’ve hoped and dreamed for shows you the true character of a person, and I like what I saw in every member of the team. We still have this championship relay medal down as a big goal to accomplish, and I know we will get there.

Right after the relay.
Photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

30km classic: This one was my hardest day, for sure. It was my “worst” race of the games, and I’m putting that in quotation marks because I don’t feel like I have the right to complain about being 7th in the world – it just feels wrong. However, a few things that day didn’t work out quite right, and if I had a mulligan I’d take it, because I knew I was in better shape than I was able to show. I crashed early on, rolling my boot over in the slush as we entered the stadium. I had to burn a lot of energy making it back to the front, and as I did that’s when Marit made her move and I just couldn’t hang with the break when it happened. Not for lack of trying, though! I was hammering away in no-man’s land the entire rest of the race, and never backed off.

My cheering squad in their “Go Jessie” shirts and Mukluk boots!

Carrying the Flag in Closing Ceremonies: This was crazy! When I got the phone call saying I’d been voted as flag bearer, my reaction was… “sorry, WHAT?” I thought I was being pranked! It was humbling and such an honor to hear that the athletes had each had a vote, and they wanted this particular spandex-clad dork to carry the flag. So immediately after picking myself up from the snow after the 30km, I rushed through the media zone, did anti-doping and then turned it around fast to get to the closing ceremony. Getting to wave the flag and see team USA march in and get hugs from my friends (both old friends and new ones I’d made during the games) put a smile on my face that lasted all night!

So happy! (photo from Noah Hoffman)

After the Games, Kikkan and I flew to New York City for a whirlwind media tour. My whole goal was to help grow the sport, and introduce more people to Cross Country skiing in the hopes that we could get a World Cup in the US someday. It wasn’t a mental break, but it was a much-needed rest for my muscles.
Throughout the games, my body was slowly but surely breaking down. I have a really strong reaction to stress, and what could possibly be stressful about anchoring team USA’s best hope of a XC medal in 42 years? Wink, wink. I did my best to manage all the nerves and pressure of the games by focusing only on the things I could control, and by preparing for each race the way I always do, changing nothing. Although mentally I thought I had it handled, my body knew better, and weird things started happening to it as the games went on. I couldn’t eat enough, no matter how hard I tried. I started waking up at 5am to chug a shake before going back to sleep in order to keep weight on. Finally, I had something in common with the bobsledders! A rash spread across my chest, and skin started falling off in weird patches on my hands. You didn’t need to know that, at all. Sorry. Although a lot of people asked about the band-aids all over my hands…so, now you know. I was convinced at points that my stomach was actually burning a hole in itself because of the post-race stomach aches I’d get when my body was trying to process being pushed so hard while racing at night. The funny thing is, these sorts of things happen to me every single time I’m at a championship event. They stop and fade away literally the day after the last race. This was no different, but at least I knew to expect it and could step back and laugh at the weird things my body was doing as it tried to absorb all the stress I was feeling. Sorry, body. I’ll be taking extra good care of you from now until spring break.

Obviously worth the stress!
Photo: U.S. Ski & Snowboard

It wasn’t just the journalists and various media outlets constantly reminding me that the pressure was on. External pressure you can learn to ignore. I’m bad at it, for sure, but I’ve been getting better at only listening to the expectations I have for myself. But that can also be a problem, because I expect quite a lot from myself! Not in terms of results. I’m smarter than that. I know there are so many things in XC racing that are out of my control, and it would be silly to place any amount of my self worth on a number on the results sheet. What I expect from myself is that I constantly give everything I have and fully commit to each and every training session, team practice, and race. And let’s be honest…that’s how you eventually get the results, anyways. Nobody ever got a medal simply by thinking about a shiny piece of hardware more than anyone else.
Since winning said piece of hardware, though, life has been a little bit crazier. I don’t know if I could have prepared for what it would mean to everyone back home, but the absolute coolest part of all of this has been having the chance to share this experience with all of you (well, that…and meeting Jeff Daniels from “Dumb and Dumber”). If even one young skier gets inspired by this and decides to stick with sport, commits to their team and enjoys racing, then it’ll have all been worth it.

Giving our coaches the medal of Ikkos for their outstanding support! Erik Flora, Jason Cork, Kikkan, Me, Chris Grover, Matt Whitcomb. 
Photo: Reese Brown/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

So the question is now…what do we do with this? My biggest hope for the sport is that this newfound attention and passion for Cross Country skiing can grow the sport I love so much, and help provide more funding opportunities for our developing athletes. I am absolutely certain that this is not the only gold medal we will ever earn, and I want to make sure we don’t have to wait another 42 years for the next one. The best way YOU can help with this is to keep sharing news about skiing, and encourage the people in your life to go give it a try! And if you’re looking to support our future team USA, you can donate to the US Ski and Snowboard team, and in the comments say that it’s for the Cross Country team. Link: https://donations.usskiandsnowboard.org

Let’s make this happen again!
Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

The other project I’m the most passionate about is getting the World Cup to come to the United States. As I type this, a team of dedicated people are working and the wheels have been in motion for a year already to try to make this happen! I think this is so incredibly important because I saw the fire in the eyes of all the junior athletes and little kids who were on the side of the race courses at the Canadian World Cups. You could feel the energy in the air, and I still remember the spark I felt getting to see the World Cup live and in person for the first time. It ignites the passion for training hard, working towards your goals and dreaming bigger like nothing else can. And I want that for all our skiers back home, to have that chance to come see it and watch the World’s best fight it out right in front of them. So when that bid happens, if we are given the chance to get this world cup, we need to make it absolutely huge. If we ever want the chance to have another one ever again, we need to show that the US wants this and cares about it, so everyone needs to come see it!
I feel like there should be a prize for making it to the end of this blog. Congrats! You got through Jessie’s strange stream-of-consciousness style of writing! More coming later on the end of the World Cup season, but for now, thanks to everyone for the amazing outpouring of support and enthusiasm! It has meant so much to me.

Happy kids! Anne, Andy, me, Sophie, Paddy, Simi. (photo from Logan Hanneman)