One of the fun facts about our team is that our Physical therapists, Massage therapists and team Doctors are entirely volunteer-based. These generous, hardworking individuals press pause on their jobs and lives back home to come on the road with us and hold our tired and sore bodies together race weekend to weekend! I think it’s one of the more motivating things about being part of this team; we run on kindness and generosity and fans of sport. It keeps me inspired to always leave every last drop of energy I have on the course, because it takes so much work to even get us to the start line!
About 5 hours before the 10km skate race in Falun, I was on Anna Giguere’s PT table, getting my ribs pushed back into place. A half hour before that, I was out gathering toilet paper for the team (heyyy 2020 vibes) because we’d run out. It’s not always super glamorous behind the scenes, but that’s what makes it feel so real and attainable! The World Cup isn’t some superhuman group of robots, it’s just humans out looking for TP before a race. And I don’t mean that metaphorically – I mean it literally.
So while the 10km individual skate race that I narrowly won on Friday was undoubtably one of my better races, I think it’s important to acknowledge that you don’t have to feel perfect the morning before the race or even at the start line to pull off a great performance. Even if your body doesn’t feel on fire, being able to refocus on the positive, narrow down your window to what you CAN do, what you need to do technically and with your pacing to achieve a good race, is important.
That course in Falun is built for my strengths; it flows from one transition to another, up, over and around hills with tricky working downhills. I was joking the day before with Alayna that it was going to be like Mario Cart out there, just collecting coins and slinging banana peels! For me, the race really ended up at the top of the Mordorbacken climb, because I knew no matter how trashed my legs and lungs were, I was going to make it back to that finish line and have fun on the downhill while I got there. It was a performance I was proud of because of my effort, my pacing and because I skied the downhills with passion, and I would have been equally proud no matter what the results sheet said. And yet, having it come as a win in fair conditions on a tough course was such a wonderful validation for our team, for the hard work that our staff and supporters have consistently put in to achieve this!
Given that Eating Disorder Awareness week is coming up soon, I’d like to tell you about a very interesting moment I had in the media zone after the 10km skate race, because this very clearly illustrates to me how far we still need to go in body image education.
One of the reporters
asked me about my race told me that Johaug was much better than I was in the uphills, but I was faster in the downhills. Why did I think this happened? Before I could open my mouth to answer him, he steamrolled over me, hypothesizing on live TV that it was because I was so much bigger than Therese and weighed more, and that’s why I went faster. I blinked at him. I asked him to repeat the question, sure that I hadn’t understood him correctly (I had).
On what I sincerely hope was still live TV for the sake of women everywhere, I told him that he needed to learn how to talk to women. Secondly, he may never comment on a skier’s body. That is not ok. I pointed at my headgear, the Emily Program, and asked him to take a second and think about why I race with that specific logo on my head. I ultimately won that race because of my heart, not my body composition, and to suggest otherwise is harmful to every young athlete out there watching it.
I was really proud of myself here, because I didn’t let this comment throw me off. Many years ago, it would have stolen all my joy from my race and made me stay up at night questioning the size of my body and what other people thought about it. Now, I just dismiss it for what it is; one man being ignorant and insensitive, looking for clickbait.
His colleague later asked me why I was “so angry” (they love to exaggerate. When I am actually angry, you will know). I explained to him “No, I wasn’t angry…just very disappointed. It is never ok to comment on skiers bodies and I shouldn’t have to stand there and take that kind of question. Maybe you don’t consider it YOUR job to protect the next generation of women in sport from harmful body image talk…but it IS my job.”
So how do we fix this? A few things. First, don’t ever comment on someone else’s body size or shape. I can’t believe I’m still explaining to people that this will never, ever help anyone…yet here we are. The last thing we need to impress upon young athletes, male or female, is that trying to achieve a body size they may or may not be genetically able to sustain is more important than hard work, mental toughness and health. Secondly, hire more women in sports journalism. Every time a woman asks me a question in the media zone, they (wait for it…) listen and let me answer them. They don’t try to feed me the answer they’re clearly looking for without regard to how I actually felt about my race.
I’d like to point out that I’m not condemning all men in the media space here. I’ve had many awesome interactions with the press, and I genuinely like and appreciate many of them (hi, Jason, Tom and Anders!). But I have never had a woman try to “mansplain” to me how and why I skied the way I did. I have had many, many men attempt this. I would love to see equal representation of men and women in the sports media space. I think we will get better stories out of it. And hopefully less speculation on the size of women’s bodies and how it helps or hurts their racing.
“But Jessie, you won’t change the world or even the media mix zone with a blog post. Why even try?”
Because! If even one girl reads this and realizes that 1.) people who make comments about her body composition are trying to shift focus away from her actual skills, 2.) she has the power to stop someone when they are being rude and hurtful and 3.) that she doesn’t have to stand there and take that kind of shit from anyone, ever, then it will have been worth it. Same goes for the young men out there. Take care of the body you were genetically born with. Keep it healthy, keep your brain happy, and keep a strong team around you. And that will be enough to reach your potential in sport. Just being YOU will be enough.
Now please excuse me while I take off my sassy-pants and change back into sweatpants for the remainder of this blog post.
We stayed in Falun for a few more days, enjoying cabin living and really enjoying the chance to cook meals for ourselves. Alayna, Julia and I were particularly excited about crepe night, when we paired podium Gruyere cheese with caramelized pears and salt. I recommend this combination about as highly as I recommend watching Bridgerton on Netflix. We made a birthday tray of fudge for Caitlin Patterson’s birthday (and Scott Patterson and Eli Brown, but we didn’t have groceries delivered in time for their actual birthday). We also did strength training in our cabin and outside in the snow, which it turns out is really fun when you get good music blasting over a speaker and rotate through in a circuit together!
Then we drove over to Ulricehamn, Sweden, which is always a fun place to race. In a normal year, they have about 50,000 fans along the course, which is overwhelmingly awesome in the best way possible. Their volunteers are always so happy to welcome you to the venue, and you genuinely feel the love and excitement. Obviously this year, it looked a little bit different without the crowds, as it has done in every venue so far. But when you love to race, you love to race. The crowds are a huge bonus because you get to let everyone in on the fun, but you still bring the same passion and energy regardless!
The course there was challenging for me in every aspect, because it pretty much played to none of my strengths when it came to racing heats. It was tactical, aggressive racing with few chances to pass, but a big headwind that made leading incredibly draining. This is great, because I don’t think every World Cup course should be the same and variety makes the sport interesting. It also was good because it challenged me to ski bold and strong and confident, and it may or may not surprise you to learn that those are things I still consider myself to be working on in a big way.
I not only wanted to race well for the sake of racing every race as well as I possibly can; I wanted to finish as high up as possible because every point matters when it comes to the World Cup overall. Once I’d made it through to the finals I allowed myself to change up my tactics. Instead of leading to be safe, I challenged myself to find the gaps and windows and scoot through them! It worked well, and I finished the day in 3rd place for my 35th individual career podium. There is nothing about that podium cheese block that gets old – it is just as delicious every time!
Sadie and I got to pair up together for the team sprint the next day, and it was so fun to be her sprint buddy! As usual, we finished the day having really laid it all out there. We played the best cards we had, and although we narrowly missed the podium, I was really proud of our efforts and our team.
After a long travel day, we made it to Davos, Switzerland to settle into our bubble and train for the upcoming World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany. It’s been sunny, with amazing snow and great skiing. I feel so lucky to be able to be here with my teammates and prepare for the upcoming Worlds with positive training conditions and a positive attitude!
Now’s the part where I tell you that it’s worthless to try and speculate and guess over exactly how the season is going to end. We might be lucky enough to have races rescheduled after the last 7 World Cups of the season – Nove Mesto, Oslo and Lillehammer – were cancelled. Frankly, I feel so fortunate to have even had a season at all, much less all the races we’ve been lucky enough to have! Personally, I’m taking it one day and one race at a time, starting with Worlds. I would love to be able to finish out the season with more races, but worrying about something that’s out of my hands isn’t a good use of my energy. So for now, I’m just putting that energy into smart preparation and sleeping a lot!
If you’d like to cheer us on, you can find the US broadcasting schedule HERE.