Orem's Noelle Pikus-Pace is about to step up and turn in a miracle act on the world sled stage.
Too bad few, if any, officials in her sport are stepping up for Pikus-Pace, the defending women's World Cup skeleton champion, the first American woman to win the overall competition a year ago.
Five weeks ago, I saw Pikus-Pace in the lobby of a local LDS ward building. She sat there with her husband, Janson. Her right leg was stretched out on a chair, and you could see the freshly sutured wounds and scars from an operation. The lower scars were where a compound fracture of the fibula and tibia broke the skin. The stitches near her kneecap were where Dr. Kirt Kimball cut and inserted a titanium rod down through her leg bone.
This was just weeks after she was hit by a runaway four-man bobsled in Calgary on Oct. 19. The impact knocked Pikus-Pace off a safety platform where she flipped head over heels twice, 15 feet in the air, and landed in a parking lot. Somebody somehow let a heavy bobsled with an inexperienced brakeman go down a track that wasn't properly prepared for the bobsled right in the middle of the women's skeleton competition.
Pikus-Pace saw the out-of-control bobsled coming too late to move. Her first reaction was to save her skeleton sled. She failed and it got busted, just like she did.
That day in the church, Pikus-Pace, 23, wore a giant smile. Positive vibes beamed from her that day. She spoke of faith. She said she would recover, not only in time to walk but to run and push a sled in the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, in February.
I was impressed. But as I stood there and looked at her leg, my thoughts were "right, tough luck, kid."
Last week in Igls, Austria, just seven weeks after Calgary, Pikus-Pace ran down the skeleton track. She finished 20th on the same track she took first on a year ago.
This week, she is racing in Latvia. Monday, she called her father and excitedly told him she was back she could do this. "I've never heard her so excited," said Lee Pikus.
In Pikus-Pace's first practice run Monday, she rode her smashed-up sled that took the hit in Calgary last October. She was 1.5 seconds off. People have tried to fix it, straightening up the runners, but the frame is fatigued and unstable. On Monday, she borrowed a sled from another American who was out of the competition, a sled not tailored to her body weight and height, and ran a time equal to any woman in the competition.
Thus the phone call to her dad.
But here's the rub in this deal.
Here you have Pikus-Pace, a picture of faith and hope, an inspiration, an athlete who is tentatively scheduled for "Good Morning America," shoots at ESPN and sled sponsor, Verizon, next Monday, when she is expected to be invited to Wall Street and sound the bell or strike the gavel for the New York Stock Exchange and nobody's paying for her accident.
That's right, the hospital and surgeon in Canada are calling her husband, a 25-year-old Utah Valley State College student, and threatening him with a bill collection agency for his wife's medical bills.
And then the sled. A new sled costs about $5,000. Her father, brother and uncle have stepped forward and taken Christmas shopping money out of their own pockets to try and get Pikus-Pace a new sled by this weekend so she can continue her heroic battle to make the U.S. Olympic team and register top performances in the 2006 World Cup.
What is wrong with this picture?
Just about everything.
Where are the International Bobsled Federation people who ran that tragedy in Calgary? Where is the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, the U.S. Olympic Committee? Where are the insurance companies?
Pikus-Pace has already had seven calls from lawyers who want to take her case of negligence for the accident, promising as much as $3 million in a lawsuit.
Lee Pikus, a humble, quiet man, has counseled his daughter to avoid the American Way suing people. He's advised his daughter to be patient and give people a chance to own up to their responsibilities for the accident. "And if they don't, we'll have to see what we can do," he said.
The wheels may turn, however slow. Today, Pikus-Pace could be stuck with everything, including a medical bill that is $20,000 to date unless people in the sport and their insurance companies come through.
But for now, the Pikus-Pace camp is putting their prayers into Noelle's run. They're grateful she is alive and can walk, let alone compete. The family's focusing right now on getting Pikus-Pace a new sled.
Lee Pikus tried to fix the sled. He took it to his shop in American Fork and bent the runners to within one-hundredth of an inch of parallel with the other runner. But when Pikus-Pace got on the sled with her weight, it bent out of alignment.
Again, where in the heck are the Americans that run this sport? Shouldn't Pikus-Pace have a new sled? And shouldn't somebody at the top pay for it?
When Pikus-Pace got mowed over that day in Calgary, it was no fault of her own. She did nothing to cause that accident. Now, in a moving attempt at a comeback, she's got this smashed-up piece of equipment, running down what is considered the most dangerous track in the world next to the one in Torino, a layout so tight, athletes have already been injured, maimed and killed.
On Monday, Janson opened up a bank account for donations for a sled at Zions Bank titled the Noelle Pikus-Pace Donation. Her father said he's willing to return any excess money to contributors once the sled is paid for. He's started work on the sled, made in Salt Lake City by Randy Parker, which will be fitted to Pikus-Pace's body frame when she returns home on Friday.
On Monday, Lee, Janson, Uncle Jerry and brother Rob took a gamble on Noelle. They gave the OK to start working on a new sled. On the same day, Janson juggled this Zions Bank deal while taking finals in physics and chemistry.
I asked Janson if it doesn't seem odd, that he is being harassed for payment of medical bills even having a surgeon in Canada call him personally for money.
"Yes, it does seem like something is off, that nobody's contacted us to help. But maybe those bills are being forwarded to an insurance company and it takes time."
"I don't know what to make of it. It seems somebody from the federation should be communicating with Janson and Noelle over their medical situation and the sled. They told them they'd give (Noelle) about $600 to fix her old sled, but Randy said it would cost more than a thousand or two to fix."
So, the race is on.
What's supposed to be right, isn't.
But that doesn't help Pikus-Pace, whose birthday was Dec. 8.
There has got to be some folks around these parts who can step up and throw a bone to Janson and Pikus-Pace and the sled fund.They didn't ask for this to happen, and they're not asking for anything now except a chance to compete.