When Olympic cross-country skier Jessie Diggins learned that some of her hometown fans wanted to honor her with a reception, the 22-year-old Afton native had only one request: Don’t make it about me.
Instead, Diggins said, she wanted the event to be an opportunity for everyone to celebrate the opening of the 2014-2015 ski season.
Despite those wishes, more than 100 fans, friends and family members turned out at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve on a recent spring night to celebrate the skiier’s 2014 Olympic journey.
And get her autograph. And maybe a photo, too.
Diggins’ team-oriented mentality and love for cross-country skiing garnered her the support of thousands of fans well before the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Kris Hansen, the Stillwater High School cross-country ski coach who once guided Diggins to three individual state skiing titles, estimated that two thirds of the attendants were from Stillwater or the St. Croix Valley.
“She still gets a lot of her support from her community, which has been watching her ski since 7th grade,” Hansen said.
Diggins blushed when she received a certificate from her hometown and Washington County declaring the day “Jessie Diggins Day.”
But to those who have followed her, it was an honor well deserved.
“Not only is she an amazing athlete, but she just has a great attitude,” said Siri Bohacek, an eighth-grader on the Stillwater High School ski team. “She’s such a good teammate and a really nice person.”
Many of the adults waiting to be photographed with Diggins embraced her with a warm hug. The younger fans, mostly preteen and teenage girls, sat cross-legged and wide-eyed at the front of the room while Diggins regaled them with photos and stories from the past season, including sky diving in Arizona and her awkward interaction with President Obama.
She told her fans that she was so star-struck when she and other Olympians met Obama that she was moved to tears. When the President asked her about the snow in Minnesota, she answered with, “Can I hug you?”
Diggins also talked about her experience in Sochi — both on and off the slopes — and what it’s like to constantly travel around the world for training.
“Everyone wants to know ‘What’s next?’ ” Diggins said. “Yes, of course I want to do the Olympics again. But there’s four more years of skiing until then.”
Diggins will begin the new season on May 19 at Mount Bachelor in Bend, Ore. Along with stops in Vermont, New York and Utah, she will also train at the Eagle Glacier camp in Alaska, which is accessible only by helicopter.
“I also made a big commitment this season to being with my team more often,” Diggins said. “I was only with them for a little over a month last year. They’re not just my teammates, they’re like my brothers and sisters.”
Callie Sacarelos is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.