Jessie Diggins made history.
The Minnesota native surprised the world when she helped the United States capture its first-ever Olympic medal in cross country, winning gold in the team sprint cementing her spot in the record books. And there was no louder cheer in that moment than from Diggins’ family, the support system that has helped her throughout her career.
Now, as Diggins preps to served as the United States’ flag bearer during the closing ceremonies in PyeongChang, her family will have one more thing to cheer about.
Here’s everything you need to know about the group:
1. Diggins Started Skiing at the Minnesota Youth Ski League
Diggins has been on skis for as long as she remember. In fact, she was on skis before she could even walk. The Minnesota native got her start in the sport when she found herself strapped to her father’s back – simply hanging along for the ride – after her family joined the Minnesota Youth Ski League.
She described her early days in the sport, writing on her website:
…thanks to my wonderful and active parents who didn’t mind having a small creature in their ski backpack pulling on their hair and yelling “FASTER”!!! We joined the Minnesota Youth Ski League as a family and spent every Sunday afternoon all winter long playing games and learning how to ski. I especially enjoyed the hot chocolate and sledding afterwards! I entered citizens races all over Minnesota with my family as well as MYSL practices.
There was no stopping Diggins after that.
She spent six years on the Stillwater High School ski team and, after graduating in 2010, decided to turn her attention to the sport full-time. Diggins joined the US Ski Team in 2011 and since them has packed her resume. The two-time Olympian most recently recorded a World Championship silver in sprint freestyle, bronze in team sprint classic, a fourth-place finish in the 4x5K relay and fifth place in the 30K mass start.
2. Her Entire Hometown Celebrated Her Gold Medal
You’ve probably seen the spot plenty of times. Diggins’ hometown of Afton, Minnesota played to the spotlight even before the skier got to South Korea, part of a national commercial that showed her neighbors and friends and family waking up early to see her ski.
It might have been a commercial, but it was also pretty accurate. And, after Dinngs made history by winning the United States’ first gold in cross-country, Comcast, the company behind the original ad, spliced footage of her victory with the original spot. Check it out here and then watch the original one to compare:
The pride grew even more after Diggins clinched gold. There were signs and banners and even ice cream named after the skier. The flavor will either be named Diggin’ for Gold or Diggin’ in for Jessie Diggins. Selma’s Ice Cream Parlor owner Rebecca Nickerson hasn’t quite decided yet.
The ice cream will be served during “Jessie Diggins Day,” an event city council member Bill Palmquist already announced would occur once a date could be decided on. And, in a town of 3,000, Diggins’ success has thrust the otherwise overlooked space into the international spotlight.
So far, the residents are embracing the moment.
“I feel just absolutely thrilled because Jessie is not only an amazing athlete but just a fantastic person. She embodies all the things that you want in a role model for a child, and so as her high school coach, I couldn’t be happier for her,” Diggins’ high school coach Kris Hansen told a local CBS affiliate. “[Area kids] made good luck cards for Jessie and a video and I just think it’s so inspiring for those kids to see somebody succeed at this level and say this is from my community, this is from my state. They’re doing my sport.”
3. Diggins Is Dating Former NHL Prospect Wade Poplawski
The pair, who first met at Kikkan Randall’s wedding, have been together for quite some time and are often spotted on Diggins’ Instagram.
Poplawksi also has a bit of an athletic edge to his story. The Winnipeg native was a defenseman for the Colgate hockey team, playing 37 games in his final season in 2010-11. And, as if that weren’t enough, his father, Joe, played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League from 1978-86 and is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Now, however, Poplawski has hung up his skates, working instead as a Consumer ABS Analyst for State Street, a firm in Boston, Massachusetts. He also spent time at Credit Suisse, working in securitized product sales, and played a year of pro hockey for the Rapid City Rush after graduating from college.
4. Her Parents & Sister Were in PyeongChang to See Diggins Compete
Of course they made the trip.
Diggins’ parents, Clay and Debra, as well as her sister Mackenzie, were in the stands when they saw her make history, winning the first-ever medal for the United States in cross country skiing. And it was gold. It’s a support system that has been the backbone of Diggins’ career for as long as she can remember and getting the chance to compete with her family watching was a highlight of her time in PyeongChang.
She discussed her parents’ influence on her career prior to the Games, telling NBC Olympics:
My Mom and Dad introduced me to the sport and taught me to ski and most importantly, they taught me to love skiing for life, not just for racing! My parents drove me to countless practice sessions, washed all my smelly workout clothes, bandaged me up when I fell on my roller skis, took me to races and gave me all the hugs I could want after I finished. They never stopped believing in me and even if I doubt myself I know they always have my back!
It was a moment years in the making for both Diggins and her family and they’re going to be celebrating this one for awhile.
5. Diggins & Fellow USA Skier Kikkan Randall Are Incredibly Close
Diggins has been skiing for as long as she can remember, so it’s only natural that she’s formed some strong relationships with her teammates. There’s one, however, that has always been just a bit stronger and Diggins considers Kikkan Randall, 35, one of her closest friends on and off the course.
And, of course, making history helps cement that bond just a bit more.
Randall told the TODAY Show after the historic race that Diggins first words after crossing the finish line were, “oh my gosh, did we just win the Olympics?”
Diggins added that she was inspired down the stretch, knowing Randall was waiting for her. “When you have someone that you care about so much waiting for you at the finish, you’re never going to give up, ever,” she said. “So those last 100 meters I dug really, really deep.”
The pair have developed a bit of a reputation on the international circuit as well, regularly staging dance parties and pre-competition face painting. In fact, Diggins even calls herself the “Team Glitter Fairy,” using the makeup to bring some brightness to the races.
It worked pretty well in the Olympics.