When we see Olympic athletes performing at the highest levels, representing their countries, giving the best they have, we admire that dedication, that effort. But we often wonder, what does it take to get to that moment? What sacrifices are made along the way to compete at the highest level?
Jessie Diggins, in her new book “Brave Enough,” takes us on her journey from growing up as a young, energetic girl in Afton, Minn., to racing against the fastest Nordic skiers in the world. She shares her joy as she competes in the World Championships and two Olympics, including the historic moment at the finish of the sprint freestyle race in PyeongChang in 2018.
But the road wasn’t always smooth, and Diggins earns the book’s title when she takes readers far past the family canoe trips of her childhood and into the challenging progressions of strength and endurance workouts. A morning ritual that last three hours and is followed by another three-hour workout in the afternoon as she prepares for the national and international ski racing circuits.
She learned that there were many talented women, but “I couldn’t control any of that. I couldn’t control what others were doing. What I could control was how hard I worked,” she wrote. “I made a pledge to myself that nothing was going to hold me back in the gym and training.”
She’s brave enough to share how those workouts affected her physically and emotionally. She gives the reader a deep look inside her mind and shows how this all becomes the lifestyle of a world-class athlete.
She is also brave enough to share her personal battle with an eating disorder. She explains her struggle with bulimia — her rehab, relapses and eventual victory — through support from teammates and family, against a disease that could have ended her skiing career and life.
“The great paradox about being an Olympic athlete is that it is simultaneously the best time of your life and also one of the most stressful times of your life,” Diggins writes about her trip to the 2018 Winter Games in PeyongChang. “When you get a chance to represent your country, to compete on the biggest stage against the best on the planet, it is a true honor. But that honor comes with a lot of pressure and expectations.”
Diggins tells all these stories in a personal voice. There is a real person struggling to find her place in her sport, in her life, and that makes it easy for the reader to get emotionally involved in her story. She’s talking directly to the reader, explaining the workouts, competition and camaraderie. A dedicated teammate, Diggins shares honest insights about what it is like living, traveling and competing with top-caliber athletes.
There are many images throughout the book that will stay in readers’ minds, but Diggins is especially memorable when she shares what goes through an athlete’s mind and emotions in the final sprint for the gold. It is a thrilling account and a clear statement about the power of human passion.
Title: "Brave Enough"
Author: Jessie Diggins with Todd Smith
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Publication date: March 10, 2020
Price: $24.95 hardcover