Two months after adding two more Olympic medals to her resume, U.S. cross-country star Jessie Diggins took her hardware to Capitol Hill, where she was among several winter Olympians to lobby members of Congress to act on climate change.
“Winning a gold medal for me was the catalyst for becoming an advocate,” says Diggins in the latest episode of On Her Turf’s LeadHER series. “I was like, great, I have this platform. What can I do that’s actually meaningful and important? And what could be more meaningful and important than trying my very best to help protect this is planet.”
Diggins met with several lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on April 29 as a representative for the non-profit group Protect Our Winters, whose mission is to give a national voice to the outdoor sports community and the climate issues that affect them.
“I like to say that as skiers, we’re kind of the canaries in the coal mine, because we’re seeing (climate change) first,” explains Diggins, who was particularly struck by the lack of snow during a recent training trip to Rovaniemi, Finland. “It was not what it was supposed to be like, in a place that could always count on natural snowfall in the past years, which is why we were there training.
“That was a really scary wake up for me, because I’d always known climate change is a problem. It’s real, I believe the science of course, but to see firsthand, you know, someplace like the Arctic Circle, which you would assume would be safe. To see it melting was really, really scary.”
Diggins and her fellow athletes, including Nordic combined athlete Jared Shumate, cross country skier Gus Schumacher and two-time gold medalist freestyle skier David Wise, pushed for solutions that ranged from updates to the nation’s power grid to an increase in production of electric vehicles.
“When I talk to lawmakers in D.C., it’s important to say, ‘I know this is tough. I know it’s challenging,'” noted Diggins, who hails from Afton, Minnesota. “But I think it’s important to make sure we’re giving our very best effort and to really honestly go forward with every ounce of energy that we have and because I just don’t want to look back and have regrets.”
That leave-it-all-on-the-course mentality has fueled Diggins throughout her career and was on full display in her medal-winning Olympic performances, highlighted by her historic win in 2018 with teammate Kikkan Randall in the team sprint, marking the first-ever gold medal for the U.S. in cross-country and first-ever medal for U.S. women in the sport. In February in Beijing, she won silver in the women’s 30-kilometer mass start free and bronze in the sprint freestyle.
“I was trying to race with a lot of courage,” said Diggins, whose courageous efforts also include her role as 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.
“For me, it really stems from the desire to cross the finish line with nothing left,” adds Diggins, who won the 2021 overall World Cup title. “I want to be so tired that it can’t even stand up, so that I know in my heart, I gave everything I had towards my very best effort.
“I think the same thing applies to climate change. I think we can all look forward with courage and do our very best efforts so that we know that we have tried everything we can.”