Hanging on the wall of Alayna Sonnesyn's childhood home was a poster of Jessie Diggins. Sonnesyn attended Wayzata High School and grew up in Plymouth, and looked up to Diggins, who became an Olympian out of Afton less than an hour away and worked her way to being one of the top cross-country skiers in the world.

Over a decade later, Sonnesyn and Diggins shared the course at Theodore Wirth Park during this weekend's FIS World Cup event. About 40,000 spectators showed up to watch the races between Saturday and Sunday, with thousands of children in the grandstand, along the course and crowding the walkways. Kids surrounded their favorite skiers every chance they got, hoping to meet the athletes and obtain an autograph or secure a coveted piece of equipment. Children ended up with racing bibs and even some skis.

For Sonnesyn, the sight reminded her of her days as an adolescent skier, aspiring to be where she is today. Looking at the young skiers who came out to support and cheer on their hometown athletes meant everything to her and the other Minnesotans.

"I grew up as one of those kids on these trails," Sonnesyn, 27, said. "I just hope that there's at least one girl or boy out there today who can be inspired by this. Even if it's just one, that means we did something really amazing."

Sonnesyn, the 2013 Junior National Champion and multiple-time team state champion at Wayzata, raved about the show Minneapolis put on in its first time hosting the World Cup, saying the foreign skiers she'd talked to loved the event and hope it returns to the Twin Cities. She finished 51st in Sunday's women's 10-kilometer race.

Race results: Women's 10k

Apple Valley's Margie Freed, who won the 2016 Minnesota state championship for Eastview, joked the course was so loud that she thought she blew out her eardrums. She also enjoyed just how many kids were in attendance, cheering the skiers on every step of the way, and said she saw a bit of herself in each one of them.

"It's really awesome. I just want to be an inspiration to everybody," Freed, 26, said. "I know that having somebody to look up to is really important, so it's really great that we have so many awesome U.S. skiers and skiers around the world that they can look up to."

Freed noted Wirth Park is also host to several high school races, including junior nationals as recently as 2022, giving the kids a chance to say they raced the same course as the World Cup skiers. Freed placed 41st on Sunday.

In the autograph zone near the finish line, hundreds of children waited just like Sonnesyn and Freed once did, and the skiers from around the world looked to leave a mark the way their own role models did years before.

Along the barriers, a pink poster read, "SKI LIKE A GIRL," filled with as many signatures as it could fit. It was held by a recent Wisconsin state champion, 16-year-old Greta Dickman of Iola, along with 12-year-old Adeline Lensmire and 9-year-old Eloise Lensmire. The three remarked it was amazing to watch the races in person and see the people from on TV that they looked up to so much.

Just like Sonnesyn hoped.