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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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