Jessie Diggins Explains the Emotional Finish Behind Her Historic Silver Medal

"No rest for the weary" is a good way to sum up Jessie Diggins's life right now. Fresh off the 2022 Olympics (and her second and third Olympic medals), the most-decorated cross-country skier in US history is already preparing for her next competition in Lahti, Finland. "We have another month of racing starting with this weekend," Diggins told POPSUGAR in a Team Toyota interview this week. "The whirlwind keeps on going."

For Diggins, though, that's not a bad thing. The post-Olympics emotional drop-off can be dizzying for some athletes, and Diggins says going straight back into competition helps her return to normalcy. "You don't go off the edge of this adrenaline rollercoaster and then have nothing going on," she says. Which isn't to say it's not exhausting — "after racing six races at the games, my body was pretty tired," Diggins admits. Her recovery has included sleep and "a lot of chocolate."

The Beijing Olympics ended on a high note for Diggins. In her last race of the games, the 30-kilometer mass start, Diggins earned her first-ever silver medal (she already owns gold and bronze). It was the first time a non-European woman had medaled in the 30-kilometer, and it required an effort so taxing that Diggins collapsed after crossing the finish line. The image of the 30-year-old lying prone in the snow was indelible and perhaps a bit concerning, but she assures us that she was fine afterwards: "I needed to be helped out of there because I couldn't walk, but once I was able to come back to myself, I was OK."

Two nights earlier, Diggins had dealt with a bad bout of food poisoning that left her feeling "hollowed out and sick" one day prior to the race. "If the race had been a day earlier, I don't know if I would've been able to be on the start line," Diggins says. "It definitely rocked my confidence." She leaned on her team, family, and fiancé for support and says that just being able to race (to say nothing of medaling) was a "big moment."

That 30-kilometer race demanded more of her than Diggins knew she had to give. Her legs started cramping, the muscles around her knees "spasming" with 17 kilometers still to go. As her technique disintegrated and pain set in, Diggins fought to keep her mindset as positive as possible. "Every single downhill, I was giving myself a pep talk, saying, 'Nope, you can do this. Just use your arms. Use different parts of your body that don't hurt right now,'" she says. She describes the race as "mentally, one of the biggest battles I've ever had."

The moment that @jessdiggs became the first woman to win a distance medal in cross-country skiing history for @TeamUSA. #WinterOlympics pic.twitter.com/oijv0uq3a1

— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 20, 2022

Diggins characterizes that silver-medal race as the hardest — and best — of her career so far. "It was, without a doubt, the deepest I've ever had to dig in my life," she says, and she found it empowering to know just how much she could overcome — even if collapsing at the finish line is not exactly an experience she would prefer to repeat: "Just to know that strength of mind is there is really empowering in every aspect of my life, and to know that strength of team is there."

If there's one thing Diggins knows, it's that success isn't defined by whether she wins a medal at the end of the race. "For me, it's always been a question of 'how do I want to feel when I cross the finish line?'" she says. That's what she asks herself when the going gets tough — when she can barely feel her legs, and her whole body aches. "I want to be able to cross the finish line and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I gave it every single ounce of energy that I had," she says. "Because then I know, regardless of the result, I'm going to feel proud of going out there and putting my heart on the line."

That's why Diggins stays in a sport that asks so much of her, and that forces her to redefine her limitations. "It makes it easy for me to be willing to keep pushing and keep digging deeper if I know that's how I'm going to feel amazing about my race," she says. "When the question is 'well, should I back down a little bit, give up a little bit, or should I keep pushing?' It's a very easy question to answer."