Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins sounded the Gjallarhorn before last Sunday’s primetime game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium.
While the 27-year-old Afton native was greeted with cheers from the crowd, what the the 66,801 in attendance didn’t know is that she almost never made it to the stadium.
In the afternoon, Diggins and her friend Kris Hansen were threatened by an angry motorist during a three-hour and 15-minute training session in her hometown.
After documenting the events in a blog post, Diggins opened up even more about it on Wednesday afternoon during a 10-minute phone conversation with the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
“We were both roller-skiing on a wide stretch of road that usually doesn’t have any traffic, and the part of the road we were on, we could see 100 meters in front of us and 100 meters behind us,” Diggins said, noting that both were wearing neon so they were visible to oncoming traffic.
“We saw the SUV coming, so we moved over single file on the side of the road and he buzzed us going way too fast, (so) that I could feel the wind rocking me sideways. He could’ve killed us.”
After the initial encounter, the driver came to a complete stop, then started driving next to them as they tried to pass.
“If we sped up, he sped up. If we slowed down, he slowed down,” Diggins said. “We couldn’t get back to the side of the road. We were forced into the middle of the road and at this point we were going up a hill, so if a car came over the other side of the hill, it would have almost no reaction time.
“That was what really freaked me out. You just don’t know what’s going to happen at that point.”
As the frightening encounter continued, Diggins tried knocking on the window and shouting in an attempt to reason with the driver. He responded by flipping them the middle finger and turning his radio up louder.
“It was a very clear message,” Diggins said. “It’s even worse because it would’ve been so easy to go around us. It seemed very deliberate because there was 100 meters of straight road with no other cars coming. And even after he passed us, there was no reason for him to stop. He clearly wanted to engage.”
Since positing the initial blog post, Diggins has watched her story go viral on social media. And while she’s grateful for the response from the public, she made it clear that she’s not seeking retribution on the driver.
“We are safe, and that’s the main thing,” she said. “My intentions were not for anybody to go after this guy. I’m not trying to ruin his life. I just want him to understand that it’s not OK.”
Looking back on it now, Diggins wants her experience to be a lesson to roller-skiers and drivers alike.
“It’s not right that that this happened to me,” she said. “It does serve as a good reminder, though, that there are some things that are out of our control. I just want to make sure people are aware when they’re doing it. Let’s not give anyone a reason to hate roller-skiers.”
“I feel like something else that’s important to know is that roller-skiers don’t have brakes,” Diggins added. “It might sometimes look like a lack of respect to drivers; it’s actually a safety thing because we can’t come to an immediate stop. It’s important for people to understand both sides of it.”
As for whether or not Diggins will continue to train in her hometown, that’s a no-brainer.
“I’d say 99 percent of the time Afton is an awesome place to train,” she said. “That same day after that happened, we had two cars drive by us and they were cheering and rolling down the windows and giving us a thumbs-up. It was very, very cool.
“I always feel very, very safe and welcomed whenever I’m training in my hometown, so I think that’s why this felt so shocking to me.”