Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins was with her family in her hometown of Afton, Minn., on Thursday morning March 12, when she learned that the FIS Cross Country World Cup Sprint Finals had been canceled due to the novel coronavirus.
That race was supposed to serve as the culmination of the highly anticipated Fastenal Parallel 45 Festival at Theodore Wirth Park in Golden Valley, Minn., a four-day spectacle designed to grow the sport of cross-country skiing at a grassroots level.
It would have been the first World Cup race in the United States since 2001, and more heartbreaking for Diggins, the first World Cup race contested in her home state of Minnesota since 1985.
“That was really tough to hear,” Diggins said on Friday afternoon. “I shed a few tears, I’m not going to lie. I know what this was going to mean to everyone and how hard hundreds of volunteers have been working to make it happen. That makes it that much more heartbreaking.”
That said, Diggins still had to hop on a plane a few hours after learning the devastating news, unsure if the World Cup races in Quebec City, Quebec were going to go on as scheduled.
“We didn’t really know what was going to happen,” said Diggins, who became a bonafide star after winning a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “We just thought, ‘We better get up there.'”
She arrived in Quebec City on Thursday afternoon, and the World Cup races were officially canceled on Friday morning. Diggins eventually arrived back in the Twin Cities on Friday night.
Talk about a whirlwind 48 hours.
“It’s been crazy,” Diggins said. “Just trying to focus on the positives and understand that the decisions that were made were for the safety of everybody.”
It’s been difficult for Diggins to separate the forest from the trees over the past few days.
She has experienced so many different emotions.
As much as she knows it was the right decision to cancel the Fastenal Parallel 45 Festival, she can’t help but wonder what the event itself would have been like.
“You’re allowed to be heartbroken and know that it was the right decision,” Diggins said. “There were so many people that put their hearts and souls into this trying to make it happen.”
In that moment, Diggins allowed herself to take a step back, recognizing how much of an impact the event could still have on the community as a whole.
They sold more than 12,000 tickets to the event — evidence that there is immense interest in the sport — and the anticipation of the World Cup race itself created a buzz that won’t go away anytime soon.
“Even though we didn’t get to put the bibs on, we were in the home stretch, and people were psyched about it,” Diggins said. “It still provided an amazing opportunity to grow the sport. It’s really important to take a step back and see the big picture. And the big picture was super positive.”
No doubt the biggest disappointment for Diggins was the fact that so many little kids won’t get to see a World Cup race up close and personal. Those are the moments that can truly inspire the next generation.
“That’s the part that really breaks my heart,” Diggins said. “That was a main driving force behind trying to get the World Cup here. I really wanted little kids to see that adrenaline and power and speed of the World Cup and be inspired. But I know we’re going to see ripple effects from the race that almost happened.”
And it’s going to happen at some point. That much Diggins made clear.
“We are going to get another shot at this,” Diggins said. “It’s only a matter of time before Minneapolis gets its day in the sun. We are going to start picking up the pieces and march forward and figure out a time when we can make it happen.
“I want people to know that it isn’t like, ‘Oh. That’s it. We are giving up.’ No. It’s going to happen. It’s just going to take a little more time.”
As for Diggins, with the cross-country season coming to an abrupt end, she is looking forward to spending some time with her family. She doesn’t know how to feel about everything right now. It’s still too fresh in her mind.
“I’m really proud of what we accomplished as a team,” Diggins said. “It’s just so weird to have it end like this. We don’t really know what training is going to look like right now because of everything that’s going on. We just have to take it one step at a time.”
In the meantime, though, Diggins is going to take some time off to decompress. She spends much of her life racing and training, so she’s looking forward to a mental reprieve.
Even better, Diggins will get to be back in the Twin Cities for the foreseeable future.
“I’m excited to have a chance to have family time,” Diggins said. “It will also be nice not to have the pressure and stress of racing and training that’s always in the back of my mind during the cross-country season. That’s a little bit different than I’m used to. It will be really nice to enjoy that time that is more or less obligation free.”
There are still some obligations that Diggins is looking forward to.
She is scheduled to attend an official book launch for her memoir Brave Enough at Stillwater High School on April 5, from 3-5 p.m.
That could obviously change in the coming weeks with everything surrounding the novel coronavirus.
“We don’t want to cancel anything prematurely,” Diggins said. “We also know the health and safety of everyone is our No. 1 concern.”
That means Diggins will still be getting a workout in at some point.
“I’ll be signing like 300 pounds of books when I’m home,” Diggins said with a laugh. “We still want to ship them out to people whether we have an official book signing or not.”