Diggins takes her immense skiing talents global

Stillwater grad sets her sights on Olympics in Sochi; Bjork receives Peaslee Scholarship

Diggins reacts as teammate Kikkan Randall crosses the finish line to win the team sprint.

Diggins reacts as teammate Kikkan Randall crosses the finish line to win the team sprint.

Afton’s Jessie Diggins hasn’t been sitting idle since winning her three Nordic skiing state championships at dear old SAHS.

From seventh grade on, Diggins was a fixture on Ponies’ Nordic ski teams under her coach Kris Hansen, herself a Ponies state champion back in 1985 and 1986.
Trying to keep up with the exploits of the now 21-year-old ex-Ponies star is not an easy task, especially for a slow reader like moi.

After checking out a few sources and Andrew Krammer’s May 5 story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, however, I’m better informed.

Get this, Diggins won a world championship during her five non-stop months of skiing. She appeared in 39 races in 10 countries while leading the U.S. Team to its first gold medal at the Nordic World Championships.

Diggins passed up a college scholarship to Northern Michigan University to pursue her dreams of competing at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. After earning her first U.S. senior title in 2011, Diggins put her college plans on hold for a while — but she has a Presidential Scholars Foundation Scholarship in her back pocket already.
I remember Diggins passing up a chance at another MSHSL state championship her junior year to compete at the World Junior Championships or she would have likely had four individual high school titles. If my memory is correct, she had a Spartan finish to win the last of those titles as a senior.

Among her credentials, Diggins has garnered nine junior national championships, five national titles and a World Cup team sprint title and a World Championship gold medal in the team sprint with Kikkan Randall.

Considering the fact that I’m far from being learned in Nordic skiing, I’m impressed that winning those five national championships included freestyle sprint (two), classic sprint, 20-kilometer classic and 10K freestyle last year. That’s versatility, sports fans.

Diggins isn’t in it for the money, but the challenge. Her quote on the front page of the Star Tribune sums it up best: “I definitely plan to be racing the World Cup for the next 10 years. I’m nowhere near my peak yet.”

This young lady is dedicated to her goal and that increases her odds dramatically.

In the huddle

Watching my grandkids perform in their various youth sports activities, I can’t help but notice the changes that have taken place in today’s sports environment. I see parents and grandparents hustling to get their youngsters to various sports venues in time — which is in contrast to the old days when you would tell mom that you were going to play baseball at the park and she would respond “that’s fine dear, be home by dark.” That was back in the days when we didn’t have jerseys with our last names sewn across the back. In fact, we didn’t have organized sports until the eighth grade. Kids walked or rode bicycles to and from neighborhood playgrounds or parks where they engaged in a wide variety of activities — some supervised, some not. Many of these activities were of the pick-up variety, choosing sides and playing with whatever numbers were available. In most cases there were no umpires, referees or parents, for that matter, just kids improvising, adapting and making the best of the situation. It wasn’t unusual that whoever owned the football was the captain and was able to dictate many of the rules. The game often ended when the owner of the football had to go home for whatever reason. Frequently, neighborhood streets became the ball diamond, football field, hockey rink or whatever the activity dictated. We didn’t have hockey rinks in Petaluma, Calif. I think we were forced to be more creative back in yesteryear and we didn’t own a bat that wasn’t taped, a baseball that didn’t have a few threads hanging or a football that wasn’t stuffed with rags. I’m not saying things were better then, but they were a whole lot different…. Former Ponies assistant hockey and football coach Marty Rossini and his wife, Pat, have been married 50 years…. Captain Dave Ratte USN will be the main speaker at the Stillwater Veterans Memorial Cruise aboard the Andiamo on Monday, Aug. 19. Ratte, who currently heads the Naval ROTC program at the University of Minnesota, is a former Ponies track standout and cross country runner. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and has had a distinguished career as a nuclear submarine Captain…. I’ll bet that you didn’t know that former Northwestern star and NFL running back Darnell Autry auditioned for a part in the 1995 movie “Any Given Sunday”, but was told that he didn’t look enough like a football player so the role went to Lawrence Taylor. The movie was another overstatement by director Oliver Stone and was the worst football film ever made in my opinion…. The Lake Elmo VFW baseball team (8-5) went 2-2 in the Minnetonka Tournament June 13-16, but its fifth game with Edina was cancelled due to weather conditions. Left-handed pitcher Clayton McGinley improved his record to 4-0 and Aiden Zurn had a big week at the plate while going 7 for 15 with a pair of doubles, a triple and a home run…. Sean Bjork, who has been a major contributor to the success of Stillwater’s state championship track and cross country teams, is the 2013 recipient of the Ern Peaslee Memorial Scholarship Award. Bjork was the Section 4AA champion in the 800 meters (1:54.64) and later placed fifth in that event and anchored the 4×800 relay team that placed fourth at state. He served as captain of the cross country and Nordic ski teams and carries a GPA above the 4.0 mark with a course load containing advanced and advanced placement classes. He will compete at St. Olaf this fall…. Together we build character, courage and loyalty…. finis

Today’s rumination #624

When in deep water, keep your mouth shut.
• • • •
George Thole retired as head football coach at Stillwater after the 1999 season. He ranks among Minnesota’s top coaches in history with a 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), including four state titles and two state runner-up finishes among 22 championship seasons. He co-authored (with Jerry Foley) “Coaching the Veer Offense,” second edition. His column appears Thursdays in the Gazette. To contact the hall of fame coach e-mail: georgethole@gmail.com

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