Monday, July 15, 2024

It’s July, a time of year when Jessie Diggins, the greatest American to ever click into a pair of cross-country skis, is usually deep into her offseason training, the hours of roller skiing and running and strength work that she loves nearly as much as tearing through the snow in Norway in the middle of winter. There’s something wrong, though. She’s feeling something she has never felt — she’s just not sure she wants to do this anymore.

She’s thinking about the upcoming season, the four months on the road away from her husband, existing in a constant state of weariness, journeys into the “pain cave” in nearly every race. In her 32 years on the planet, she has never had to search for motivation, never dreaded a workout, never wanted to do anything but push her body and mind to the edge of exhaustion.

It was more complicated than that, though. The eating disorder that she had battled through her teens and early in her career, a condition that is all too prevalent in her sport, was back. That wasn’t supposed to happen. She thought she was over it, something that years of therapy had eradicated from her brain. For weeks, though, she’d been fighting it all over again.

And for the first time, a thought dawned on her:

“I don’t have to do any of this.”

“I don’t need to win another race, as long as I live,” Diggins, a world champion and three-time Olympic medalist, said earlier this fall, recalling the feeling after her summer relapse. For anyone who has gotten even the slightest glimpse of Diggins’ career — most likely it’s that final, lung-searing sprint across the finish line at the Olympics in Pyeongchang in 2018 to win the first U.S. gold medal in cross-country skiing — the idea that her brain had reached the point where she thought of walking away from ski racing is hard to fathom.

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