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Continued: Hometown buoys Diggins' Olympic dreams

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 14, 2014 - 6:24 AM

It’s why so many are willing to sacrifice time and money without a second thought. Officially, Stillwater has three coaches — Hansen, Simpson and boys coach Torry Krafston. But there are about two dozen volunteer “technical coaches” who also help.

Early promise

Simpson first encountered Diggins when she was a seventh-grader at Oak-Land Junior High in Lake Elmo.

“I saw it immediately,” he said of Diggins’ unique mix of physical skills and mental toughness.

“I told the other coaches, ‘We have someone special here.’ She had that attitude from Day One, you know that? She had that positive attitude and just worked so hard.”

Taipale saw that, too, when a 12-year-old Diggins was training on roller skis early one morning at Battle Creek Regional Park. Taipale, who runs the Finn Sisu ski and sporting goods shop in Lauderdale and who coached the University of Minnesota Gophers’ women to two national titles, runs summer skiing programs in which Diggins participated. That day, Diggins wiped out.

“When I came up to her, I will never forget this, she looked up at me and she said ‘You’re going to be stuck with me for a long time,’ ” Taipale said, of the angelic-looking girl with the tenacious personality.

Stylos, a California native and co-owner of the Chilkoot Cafe, the unofficial headquarters of the area’s Nordic skiing community, said Diggins came to the cafe three years ago hoping to put out buckets for patrons to drop in a few bucks to help her fund her way to the U.S. “B” skiing team and European training.

“I asked her, ‘What kind of money are we talking about?’ and she said ‘At least $20-$25,000,’ ” Stylos said. “My first thought was, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ ”

Instead, Stylos catered a fund­raising dinner that brought in more than $10,000, an event repeated the following year when Diggins advanced to the “A” team, and then again last fall when she was bound for the Olympics. The event sells out quickly, Stylos said, but people just drop in to contribute.

“All I did was open the door, put some food out and said ‘Help Jessie,’ ” he said. “And they did; they came by the truckload. The passion is out there.”


Jim Anderson •651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJanderson


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