She's back.

And she has The Sled.

Fellow Americans — most notably Utahns — sure did deliver during the holidays for America's top female sled champion from Utah.

Orem's Noelle Pikus-Pace, the first U.S. woman to win a skeleton World Cup overall championship, will have a new sled to continue a miraculous comeback after busting her leg in a freak accident Oct. 19 in Calgary, victim of a runaway bobsled.

Pikus-Pace, competing with a titanium rod in her right leg after a bobsled mowed her down and wrecked her sled in Canada this past fall, rode a state-of-the-art newly designed skeleton sled Tuesday in Park City, putting the finishing touches on a custom fit that could launch her into the story of the 2006 Olympic games in Torino, Italy, in two months.

On Tuesday, Pikus-Pace posted the fastest skeleton run in the practice field at Park City, clocking 52.44 seconds with a 5.49-second push. Her track time was faster than 2002 Olympic champion Tristan Gale (52.49) and three-time national champion Katie Uhlaender (52.51).

Obviously, with swelling in her right leg, Pikus-Pace's push time of 5.49 was significantly slower than the two other stars' (Gale 5.38 and Uhlaender 5.22), but her work on the track made up for it during her run. The sled went back to the shop to fix some bugs, making it more responsive, according to the designer, and she will race again this week.

Pikus-Pace herself never asked for any help, or money. That's not her. But the community answered the call to help her with a new sled.

The sled, estimated to cost $5,000, is one of only two in the world, designed by Randy Parker of West Jordan. Earlier this month, in a dramatic return to the sport, Pikus-Pace borrowed the other Parker-made sled, that of U.S. teammate and the world's No. 1 ranked male skeleton slider, Zach Lund, and finished eighth in a World Cup event in Latvia.

With Pikus-Pace on the mend, now she's back on track with a sled far superior to the one with which she won the 2005 World Cup Skeleton title. The combo should put the fear into the Swiss and Canadians, Pikus-Pace's primary challengers if she qualifies for the U.S. Olympic team in coming weeks.

When a call went out several weeks ago to raise money for a Pikus-Pace sled, the community responded. Donations came in to Zions Bank, including offers from the Wolverine Club — businessmen who support Utah Valley State College athletics, where Pikus-Pace and her husband, Janson, attend school.

Why does a skeleton sled cost $5,000?

Because the U.S. has the technology, design and will to build such a toy — much to the chagrin of the Swiss and Canadians and the governing sled-racing body. Parker says these parties abhor the fact the U.S. has dominated the skeleton in Olympic competition for decades. After all, it is a European sport where their champions are considered heroes with rock-star status.

Enter Parker, who has invented, designed and created more than a hundred sleds. He designed a sled for Brady Canfield for competition in Calgary, March 2000. Using a super alloy material to build the sled, Canfield blew away the competition and upset the Canadians' world champion, Randy Davenport, on his home track the first day.

On Dec. 12, 2001, the International Federation of Bobsleigh and Tobogganing (FIBT) declared Parker's runners on his sleds illegal. He was using material NASA used on shuttle fasteners. Parker then reinvented, redesigned and replaced the runners by Dec. 23 — and American sledders still won.

Parker is a former University of Utah undergraduate student who was once put on academic probation by the chemistry department. He quit school, got into auto racing, trading stocks, returned to the U. and graduated first in his accounting class.

Today, Parker's sled is built from a top-secret super alloy. Parker had to obtain permission to use the alloy from the U.S. Air Force. It is used in the landing gear of U.S. fighter jets such as the F-22 Raptor.

"It's a really strong material that isn't brittle," Parker said. "It's a class of material we make in the U.S. I call it 'bandit' material, so we don't have to actually use the technical name for it."

Parker said he doesn't realize any profit from making the sleds. The cost is in the material and shop time he contracts with metal experts to cut, trim, heat-treat and test to tolerances that equal one-thousandth of an inch.

When Parker gets the alloy, it comes in a round bar that costs $9,100 from Carpenter Technology Corp. in Pennsylvania. He has three different people prepare it for construction of the sleds. Diversified Metal Services in Salt Lake City saws, cuts and grinds it up to size. Rawson Metal Works Inc. of Salt Lake City builds the components for the sleds to specs so restrictive the rest of the world generally is unwilling to do the brain bashing to accomplish them.

Parker then takes the material to Salt Lake City's Industrial Heat Treat, where sled parts are put in huge furnaces and baked to 900 degrees.

Parker, who calls himself a scrounger, making his living doing day trading and mortgage loans, builds the sleds out of his garage. His sled work is for love, not money — and the challenge of keeping ahead of the world sled minions.

Parker said the expense to sponsor the U.S. skeleton team is impossible for one person to absorb. "It takes a community and it is easy in the U.S. We have no excuses. We have the athletes, we have the technology and we should win every race. Unlike the bobsled, where the Germans appear to have more desire to win than the U.S., the skeleton is there for the taking for Americans."

He says the FIBT is similar to the Ministry of Magic in the Harry Potter novels and he's simply the guy with the next magic trick trying to keep ahead. "It's really quite entertaining."

The FIBT once banned his fly trap on the sled, outlawing the use of rubber on the sled which keeps the saddle of the sled floating. So, Parker turned to his car-racing days and used a spiracle rod and reinvented the fly trap. "The FIBT. They're a hoot," Parker said.

Now in his 40s, Parker says he is getting old and fat. But from his garage, he's putting together the arrows for the quiver of Pikus-Pace and Lund.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com