Jessie Diggins’ legacy extends far beyond her historic Olympic gold

Jessie Diggins competes at the FIS World Cup Cross-Country Lillehammer Skiathlon.
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Editor’s Note: If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.


Cross-country ski racer Jessie Diggins is easily one of the most recognizable faces representing Team USA in Beijing. The Minnesota native with the glittering cheeks – and personality to match – captured gold with teammate Kikkan Randall in the Olympic team sprint in 2018, heralded across the finish line by the now iconic call of NBC commentator Chad Salmela: “Here comes Diggins! Here comes Diggins!”

“One of the things that really hit me was seeing different videos of people’s reactions,” Diggins said of the celebration of her historic win, the first-ever gold medal for the U.S. in cross-country and first-ever medal for the U.S. women. “I get what this means for this sport. Like, I get how this is going to change things for the next generation. That was so cool.”

But it wasn’t enough.

Just four months after you thought you saw Diggins turn herself inside out, she went even deeper, revealing in a personal blog post that she had battled an eating disorder as a teenager. It became so dire that Diggins’ mom, Deb, would check on her at night to make sure her daughter was still breathing.

“When I realized that my mom was checking on me in the middle of the night to make sure that I didn’t have a heart attack in my sleep, because that was something that happens sometimes with bulimia – it’s so much stress on your body,” she told NBC Olympics in the lead-up to Beijing, “That really broke my heart, because I felt like I was a really bad kid.”

And so – just like with her inspiring Olympic performance – Diggins realized she had sparked a conversation that she could keep moving forward.

She became an ambassador for The Emily Program, a national leader for eating disorder recovery where Diggins sought treatment as an 18-year-old in an intensive day program. Now 30, she wears the program’s logo on her hat during every competition.

In 2020 she followed up with her memoir, “Brave Enough,” detailing more about her harrowing struggle but also expanding on her recovery, self-discovery and understanding in hopes that sharing her story will help others facing similar trials. Diggins has also used her platform to advocate for climate change, youth sports and healthy practices for youth, and she puts her time in as a board member of both Protect Our Winters and the Share Winter Foundation.

She has also helped educate members of the media on the importance of body image education.

“I want people to know that you don’t have to be perfect. I’m definitely not,” she says. “I have a lot of things that I’m working on, but I think my biggest strength is that I do ask for help now.”

RELATED VIDEO FEATURE: Feeling love and pressure: Jessie Diggins’ road to success

Diggins also trained full-time over the last four years, during which she became the first-ever U.S. woman to win both the Tour de Ski and the overall World Cup title in 2021.

“The thing I’m best at is just suffering, because that’s a big part of this sport… being able to be comfortable with the amazingly uncomfortable,” says Diggins, well aware of the irony.

The difference, she says, is that she now understands her “why.”

“Figuring out your ‘why’ and your reason: ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I pushing this hard?’ And for me, usually that ‘why’ is the team,” she says.

But for Diggins, that team extends well beyond her official teammates. It is a support network that started at birth with her parents, Deb and Clay, and has since expanded to include younger sister, Mackenzie, longtime coach Jason Cork and fiancé Wade Poplawski, who she’ll marry this spring.

“The only reason I even made it to that Olympics at all was because of The Emily Program and because of my recovery, and because of my support team, and my family, and the amazing teammates around me, and coaches who said, ‘We accept you for who you are.'”

At the 2022 Winter Olympics, Diggins has a chance to become the first American (of any gender) to win more than one Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. Her program kicks off with the women’s skiathlon on Saturday and she could ski up to five additional events in Beijing: individual sprint freestyle, 10km classic, 4x5km relay, team sprint classic and the 30km mass start freestyle.

While Diggins is certainly aiming for the medal podium, she takes the pressure off by focusing what is in her control: her ability to do things that are very, very hard.

“I know that when I cross the finish line,” she said in January, “I will have given everything that I have.”

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING UPDATE: Jessie Diggins adds Olympic bronze to already golden cross-country resume

Jessie Diggins’ Potential Schedule at the 2022 Winter Olympics

Event  Date/Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date/Time (Beijing, China)
Women’s Skiathlon 2/5/22 2:45 AM 2/5/22 3:45 PM
Women’s Individual Sprint Freestyle (Qualification) 2/8/22 3:00 AM 2/8/22 4:00 PM
Women’s Individual Sprint Freestyle (Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Final) 2/8/22 5:30 AM 2/8/22 6:30 PM
Women’s 10km Classic 2/10/22 2:00 AM 2/10/22 3:00 PM
Women’s 4x5km Relay 2/12/22 2:30 AM 2/12/22 3:30 PM
Women’s Team Sprint Classic (Semifinals, Final) 2/16/22 4:00 AM 2/16/22 5:00 PM
Women’s 30km Mass Start Freestyle 2/20/22 2:00 AM 2/20/22 3:00 PM

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2022 Winter Olympics Schedule – How to watch every women’s event

NBC Olympics Research team contributed to this report.

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”