Jessie Diggins at The Emily Program’s 25th Anniversary


Thank you So, there are really so many incredible things to say about our keynote speaker, the incredible Jessie Diggins. Jessie recently wrote a blog post, that maybe many of you read, describing her experience participating in the ESPN body issue. As someone who’s struggled with, and recovered from an eating disorder, Her blog sparked a conversation, really across the globe, and decreasing stigma, talking about eating disorders, reaching out for help. Those are the things that are important to Jessie They are important to all of us in this room We’re thrilled that she’s here with us today to tell us more Please welcome me in joining Olympic gold medalist, all-around amazing human Jessie Diggins [Applause] Thank you so much for being here. This is really humbling and really really inspiring to see so many people who are here because they care, whether you’re here because you have had and eating disorder, or you know somebody who’s had one, or you’re a teacher or a coach or a parent or a friend or a teammate, we all have reason to learn and educate ourselves about what it means to have an eating disorder and how we can help. So, I’d like to share with you a little bit of my story. I was so fortunate to grow up with parents who loved Cross-country skiing, and they loved being outside, and we loved adventuring. And so, before I could even walk, my dad would stick me in his backpack, and that’s actually my little sister in the awesome jester hat there, and we would just go off every single weekend and just love being outside, and as a family we just spent so much time together. We were really close and I feel so fortunate all the time when I think about all the awesome experiences I had growing up. Obviously my shoes were super cool They’re the highlight of this photo. But, I got to do Little running races, citizens races. I took dance classes as a little kid. I played soccer. I did track and field. I thought I was gonna become a triple jump star, didn’t quite pan out, [Laughter] but I just loved being active, and yes, sometimes I was really really dorky, but that’s okay because I had so much fun, and I had so many positive, amazing role models in my life. When I got older, I joined the Stillwater area high school ski team and I had so much fun there. I had so many people to look up to, and we had about 125 kids on the team, so there was always a friend to ski with you, to laugh with you, to push you through the hard days, and to cheer for you in your races. Um, and I started to realize that I loved skiing so much, and I wanted to make it my career. In high school I started racing more and more and I started to race internationally. I started to qualify for World Juniors and represent our country overseas. And I thought, “Wow, could you get to do this as a job? Is that a thing? Do people do this? I don’t know, like Cross-country skiing, I don’t know.” But, I started to think, “Wow, This could be my career. This would be so amazing”. And, through that, I had so much fun, but I also started to put a lot of pressure on myself. I was always a very type A kid. I wanted to do everything in my life 100%, and that’s a character trait that’s helped me a lot in life. It’s helped me find a lot of success, but it also put me at risk for an eating disorder because I was an incredibly hard worker, but I was so black-and-white. I either do something, and I do it all the way, and I get all the extra credit assignments, and I get the A in the class. Yay, I win. Or, I don’t do it at all, and that was a really dangerous outlook to have because I only saw it all or nothing. And so, my senior year of high school, I started watching the World Cup more and more, and I started looking at the people who were, you know, racing from every country around the world, and I had a very strong misconception that all of them had no body fat at all, and I started to only see the incredibly lean athletes and think, “Okay, if I want to become a professional skier, then I need to look like that”. And so, it started pretty innocently. I just started to train a little bit more, eat a little bit less. It was very gradual. There was no big “aha” moment. it just sort of snuck up on me through my senior year in high school. But, after graduation was when I actually became bulimic for the first time, and you know, after you make yourself throw up it’s kind of like, Okay, there’s no denying this. This is the definition of bulimia. I ate and I make myself purge, and now I know I have a problem. But, I didn’t tell anyone because I wanted to be going to training camps, I wanted to make the national team, and I started to think, “Well, you know I don’t know too much about eating disorders, but I can probably just do this. I can just pull it off. I can be the one person who lives and succeeds with an eating disorder I just have this absolute denial going on, and I thought, “Okay, I don’t need to tell anyone, no one’s gonna know”. Honestly, it’s pretty easy to hide it if you don’t want someone to know that you’re struggling, it’s not that hard for people to not be able to figure it out. But, I’m really really close with my parents and my family, and eventually they said, “You know, you aren’t happy anymore, and you’re not Jessie anymore, and you aren’t acting like yourself” And, it wasn’t about, “you don’t look like yourself”, or, “you’re not eating normally”. It was just, “You’re not happy. What’s going on?” “You’re being a professional skier you’re living your dream, you’ve always wanted to do this. Why? what’s going on?” And, I finally admitted and said, “Look I, um, have this thing that I’m doing, and I think I have an eating disorder. And, they were incredibly supportive, and they said, “Okay, what can we do to help?” Let’s, you know, maybe we can find a therapist. Yeah, that should work”. And so, I went and I saw a therapist, and, you know, it was fine, but it didn’t really get me over that sort of, I needed more to get me over the barrier to getting into recovery. And so, it was sort of working, but not really. And finally, my parents sat me down and said, “Look, you’re going to die. It might not be tonight, it might not be tomorrow, might not even be in a year, at some point this is going to kill you, and I knew that, I mean, I wasn’t dumb. I had done some research, and I knew that this was a fatal thing if I kept going down the track I was going on, but I didn’t know what to do about it, because at that point, my eating disorder was my crutch. I felt like I literally couldn’t get around my day without it. I felt like I needed it to survive, to be who I was and to go after the gold that I had. And so, finally and my parents said, “Look, also this is not good for our family either”. My mom was setting an alarm at night to check on me to make sure I didn’t stop breathing in my sleep, and realizing what it was doing to my family That was what really made me get over that sort of last barrier where I said, “Look, I need to go get help”. And, my mom said, “Well, I did some research. There’s this program called The Emily Program. They’re a national leader In eating disorder treatment. We really think you should give it a shot. Here’s the phone. We’re gonna help you make that call, and we’re gonna walk you in the door, and they were there for me every step of the way And, so when I went to the eating disorder treatment center, I thought it was gonna be sort of like a hospital, and like, a very clinically feel, and it wasn’t! It was, homey, it was warm, it was friendly, it was welcoming, and I never felt judged, and I learned so much about eating disorders. I learned that it wasn’t my fault and that I didn’t do anything wrong, and my parents, through group and family therapy, learned that they didn’t do anything wrong either Sometimes it just happens. And I…. [Applause] And I joined group therapy, and that was really amazing for me because I felt like I was part of a team, which, you know, sports-minded, happy, here we go, part my team! And so, it really clicked into my personality traits, and suddenly the type A, hard-working traits that had sort of pulled me into the eating disorder were pulling me back out, and I realized that every day that I came to programming, I was not only helping myself. I was helping all the people around me, and I was responsible for the other women in my group to get better because I could, maybe, vocalize a feeling or an emotion that they were feeling, and maybe I could help them, and they could help me. And so, I started to get better, and suddenly I was able to go to family vacations and be in a swimsuit and only think about how I was probably gonna die tubing, [Laughter] And not worry about what I looked like Suddenly, I was able to just be myself and be happy, and be this crazy, wild little child and just enjoy life again. And, I was able to go Nationals, and instead of thinking about what I looked like in my spandex suit, I was thinking about what my muscles could do for me. I was thinking about, “Wow, my legs are gonna take me up this hill so fast, and I’m gonna have so much power, and I’m gonna be so strong because I took care of myself.” And, I wasn’t worried about what I’d ate because I saw it as fuel. I said, “Okay I’m gonna eat this granola bar because that is gonna help me try to win this race. And, I did. I finally started to perform better and more consistently, and I got my career back. I got my dream job back, and I was able to get a spot on the US national team, and I felt so accepted for who I was because another big thing I learned at The Emily program was: It’s okay to just be you and be unique and there’s never gonna be another you like you, so embrace your youness and that’s great. Love who you are and love your flaws and everything about you. And, I’ve found people who totally accepted me for that. And so, one thing I love about this team is we all have a totally different role. This is me trying to teach everyone The Floss. You know… [Laughter] You know what I’m talking about. And, my role on the team is the team cheerleader. You know, I’m not the team mom. I’m definitely not the team tech guru, or the team logistics manager. There’s other people who are great at those things, but I found my little piece of the puzzle, and I’m the team cheerleader. That’s the part that I can add to the group, and everyone has a different part that they bring to every group, to every team you’re on, to every workspace. Everyone is an important piece of the puzzle and you need all the pieces to make it fit. We trained so hard with each other, and, again, as a pertains to The Emily Program, every day wasn’t about what I looked like. It was about what I could do with my body and what my body could do for me, and where it could take me, and all the amazing adventures I could have, and the amazing places we could go train. This is up on Eagle Glacier in Alaska, and it was an incredible place to go train day after day, and the only way I could be there was because I had started to take care of my body. This is training camp in New Zealand in the South Island, and I’m there with all my teammates and having fun and challenging myself and pushing myself do you better every single day, and that only came because I was taking care of my body. For those of you who don’t follow cross-country skiing as much, we do a lot of cross training in the summer, and it is grueling. It’s hard work, and it’s hard work in recovery as well, taking care of yourself every day so you can bounce back. We do a lot of roller skiing, weight lifting, and running. And, we’re out there rain or shine cold or not, you know. Whether it’s pretty outside or not, we’re gonna go up there, and we’re gonna get it done. This is what I look like At the end of race, [Laughter] and it’s very humbling, Cross-country skiing. I used to worry like, “Oh my gosh, what if I do well and I get a big head”? And, then I see this picture, and all the snot of my face, And I think, “Nope I’m good. It’s gonna be fine.” But, for me it’s really interesting because a big part of my job is dealing with being uncomfortable and dealing with being in pain because Cross-country skiing, similar to running, it’s just hard. It hurts. Your body doesn’t want you to keep pushing it that hard and I learned that, you know, you can only do that when you take care of your body and bounce back and you have to be really mentally strong in what your body is capable of and what you’re asking from it. So, this is the final climb of the Tour de Ski, and I think it’s the biggest example of what we call: The Pain Cave, that special place where Your body isn’t happy, but you’re pushing through something in order to get through something better, and this race comes at the end of the Tour de Ski, which is nine races over seven days, across three countries and four venues, and it’s it’s grueling, and the last race actually goes up the Alpine course, so you’re going through at the wrong direction. All my Apline friends say, “Don’t you know there’s an easier way to do this?” And, I say, “well yeah, but this is more rewarding… [Laughter] In a way, but for visualizing this course profile: The steepest part of the course is 29% grade. So, if you’ve ever been on a treadmill and you think, “Gosh, I wanna increase the resistance. I want to challenge myself.” You bring it up three percent, four percent, maybe eight, nine, ten. This is 29%. [Laughter] And, when my coaches showed me this, I thought it was a joke, I started laughing, and they kinda went “No, this serious, you’re gonna go do this tomorrow Good luck!” [Laughter] And, you have to be so strong mentally. And so, in the summer, we prepare for this because you don’t just enter the fight of your life without a little bit of preparation. And, we do this as a team. We push each other, we challenge one another, and we get each other through the really really hard days, similar to when I was in The Emily Program. You’re not just magically recovered one day. There are so many training days, if you will, that you have to get through to get to that place where you’re comfortable with your body, and you can really love who you are, and you do that with the support of a team and you do that by grinding away through the uncomfortable sessions, the hard moments, and the hard realizations. And, a lot of this is in your head. Skiing and eating disorders for me, it was never really about food. It was about dealing with stress and not knowing how to deal with stress. So,I would have this uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, or fear, or anger, or sadness, and I wouldn’t know what to do with it, and I wouldn’t know how to process it, so I would use my eating disorder symptoms to just numb myself so I didn’t have to feel at all. And then, I sort of realized that I can work through those emotions. They’re not going to end me. I can feel stress, or fear, or sadness, and I can move through that using a lot of different tools, and that really helped me out in ski racing because there are a lot of really uncomfortable moments. There are, there is a lot of pain that your body goes through where, you know, your legs are on fire, your lungs are burning. Lactic acids are building up in your muscles, and every signal in your body is telling your brain to just stop, and you have to figure out how to push through that. And, for me, I like to think about how I want to feel at the finish line. Do I want to finish the race and know that I did everything I could to get to that finish line in one piece? Do I want to know that I pushed with everything I had and I gave 100%, or will I go to bed that night with a little bit of regret. I think, “You know what? I could have done a little more. I could have pushed myself a little harder. I could have challenged myself. just a little bit more, and I held back.” I don’t know about you, but I hate living with regret. I hate the feeling of knowing that I chickened out. And so, both with recovery and in racing, I wanted to feel like I did everything I could that day, and I wasn’t gonna worry about tomorrow I wasn’t gonna worry about what happened in the past; It’s time to let that go. But, I was worried about that day and what I could do in the moment to do the very best I could. And, that’s the attitude that I took into the Olympics. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of pressure surrounding The Olympics. And, my first Olympics I was 22 years old. I came in as a total nobody, and that was kind of great because if I did well it was gonna be like,“ Yay”! And, if I did poorly, nobody really cared. It wasn’t gonna be on the front page of the newspaper. This Olympics was a little bit different. There was a lot of pressure. Everyone and their mother and their aunt was saying, “So, are you gonna do it? Are you finally gonna win a medal?” And, I’d be like, “I don’t know. “Everyone’s here to try to win a medal. That’s kind of the point of the Olympics.” [Laughter] But, we went in with everything we had, and we gave it our very best shot. And, I had a lot of metal opportunities, but we had come up short in a couple races, and one of the big races where people were looking as me as a metal favorite was the 10 kilometer skis, and over 10 kilometers in 30 minutes of racing, I came up 3 seconds short. That’s not very much, and it would have been so hard to face the media, and you have everyone saying, “So, what went wrong? Are you sad?” Of course you’re not happy about it, but for me, what got me through that moment was the realization that when I was laying in the snow, half comatose after having pushed my body so hard, I thought about the race before I even saw the scoreboard, I thought about the effort that I gave, and I thought, “Yes, I just did everything humanly possible try to win that race. for the last eight years I’ve been training so hard every day to try to win that race. And, at the end of the day, someone else was just faster than me, and that’s okay. I can’t control them. I can only control me, and I can only control the effort that I give every single time I get on the snow. And so, knowing that I did the very best I could, and I couldn’t have found those three seconds if my life depended on it because I had given 100%. That’s what got me through the media zone and into the next race with a positive mindset, knowing that it was okay to try your very best and maybe not succeed that day but it was maybe gonna come later. And, even if it didn’t, I am giving it everything I have, and I had pursued excellence with every fiber of my being, and that was a really good feeling. So, we went into the team sprint one more time with one more huge chance to get a medal, knowing that we had tried out absolute best and we were gonna go up there, swinging as hard as we could. And, the team sprint, for those of you who don’t follow cross-country skiing, it is a 1.2 kilometer course, and there are two relay skiers. And Kikkan Randall, a huge icon in the sport, and one of the leading women on the this team, was leg one I was leg two, and each of us were gonna ski three laps for a total of six laps. It is a fast and furious race. You don’t have to stay in your own lane. So yes, people break each other’s poles, they step on each other’s skis, they cut one another off. It’s a little bit like NASCAR with just smaller, slower vehicles [Laughter] But, I’d like to show you how that race panned out. [Announcer] So close for the U.S. On so many occasions. Now moving up on the inside. Into second place! They’re all completely gassed! They’ve given it everything On the Klaebo-Bakken. Stina Nilsson leading Jessie Diggins into the final turn, Can Diggins answer?! As the roars rattle around The Cross-country stadium In PyeongChang. Sweden, the U.S., and Norway come into the light! HERE COMES DIGGINS! [Laughter] Diggins making the play around Sweden Jessie Diggins to the line! YES! YES! YES! And it is Jessie Diggins, Delivering a landmark moment that will be etched In U.S. Olympic history! [Applause] About eight years of full-time training went into that, And this is what we got out of it. [Cheering] And, after we’re done, I would love for everyone to come take a picture, hold the metal, It’s weirdly heavy. [Laughter] But, for me I don’t display that medal anywhere in my house. It actually lives in a pink hat in my sock drawer. But, I am gonna put up these pictures on my wall because this is what it really meant to me. This is what we’ve built as a team and as a community, and the Emily Program is a huge part of this moment because I would not be here, hugging my coach, if it weren’t for you guys. I really, I wouldn’t. So, thank you so much. [Applause] I had the confidence to just focus on what I had to do. I wasn’t worried about what all these horizontal stripes on my spandex suit were gonna look like. I was just worried about doing my job, and doing it well, and I had no sort of self-confidence thoughts enter into the game day, and that was huge for me because I just had to focus on this one crazy task in front of me. And, I think that there are so many people who have a very similar story to me, and there’s so many young people who have so much potential and so many huge, big goals and crazy dreams, and I want them to be able to achieve it. But, statistically, there’s a lot of people who are gonna have an eating disorder and be impacted by something very similar to me. And, I think that the eating disorder I had could have totally taken my life right off the rails, but The Emily Program helped get it back on track, and they helped save my life, and they helped make me the person who I am today. And, I can be confident and not worry about what I look like and only worry about what I can do because of them. So, I’m so grateful to their support because moments like this wouldn’t be possible without them. Thank you. [Applause]

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