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Mormon Olympian rides on her faith

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 10 2010 12:18 a.m. MST

PARK CITY, Utah — Pain, disappointment and chaos could have obliterated Noelle Pikus-Pace's dream of being an Olympian.Instead, she turned to her faith and found peace, as well as a renewed purpose.The Orem, Utah, native and skeleton competitor is one of eight Mormon athletes who will vie in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, this month. In addition to Pikus-Pace, Orem's Shauna Rohbock (Mountain View High/BYU) will compete in bobsled; Chris Fogt (American Fork High/Utah Valley University) will compete in bobsled; Steven Nyman (Sundance, utah) will compete in Alpine skiing; Erik Fisher (Middleton, Idaho) is also competing in Alpine skiing; and Christian Niccum (Woodinville, Wash.) will compete in luge — all for the U.S. team.In addition, snowboarder Torah Bright will compete for Australia in the halfpipe, and David Bissett will compete for Canada in the bobsled.For most of them, faith is an integral part not just of who they are, but of what they are able to accomplish as athletes.Faith has defined Pikus-Pace's career as she suffered a compound fracture to her lower right leg in October 2005, just a few months before the 2006 Olympics. She defied the odds and doctors' predictions with her amazing recovery, as she was back on the skeleton track within six weeks of the accident. In the end, it was a rules issue that kept Pikus-Pace from competing in 2006.__IMAGE1__She avoided the lure of self-pity after the accident, throughout painful rehab sessions and despite the thought of taking four more years to earn a trip to the Olympics, by relying on her faith in God as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."My faith had everything to do with my recovery, with my coming back to compete — the prayers of everybody else around me, my family and really just putting my faith in the fact that everything happens for a reason," said Pikus-Pace, who will represent the U.S. in the 2010 Olympics in skeleton on Feb. 18. Pikus-Pace was the top female U.S. skeleton athlete when she was injured in an accident that threatened to keep her off her feet for months. Just after she emerged from surgery, her husband, Janson Pace, administered a blessing."I know 100 percent that blessing is what did it," she said. "My family was all going to the temple, putting my name in, and I really, really believe that was how I was able to recover so quickly and go beyond what doctors expected. I know I couldn't be here without Heavenly Father's help."The prayers and faith of her family — and even strangers — sustained and strengthened Pikus-Pace for what became a difficult but miraculous journey."The doctors were in awe," she said. "They still are as to how quickly I recovered. I was walking within three weeks of having a compound fracture to my lower right leg, which is unheard of. That's without crutches. I was competing on the World Cup circuit within six weeks, sprinting with my sled. ... I really believe it came down to the prayers of my family, everyone around me and also just having faith that if it were supposed to work out, then it would."Pikus-Pace pushed herself in a way that was revealing, even to her family."I knew she was a passionate person before the accident," her husband said. "I knew she was dedicated and always did her best. When the accident happened, I really just saw the fire in her eyes for something she truly wanted. ... I learned how powerful her determination was and where it could take her."Despite being the best U.S. woman in two of the three World Cups she competed in, a rule issue wouldn't allow her to be named to the 2006 team."It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, when I realized I was not going to be going to the Olympics in 2006," she said.Still, because of her faith, she never succumbed to the sadness that followed a decision to keep her off the team."I was at peace," she said. "It didn't take away the disappointment and the discouragement I was feeling, but it kept me going, putting my faith in Heavenly Father and knowing that he was guiding my path. It wasn't just what I wanted, but it had to be what he wanted for me."The year after the Olympics, she became the first American woman to win a world championship, and she did it by the largest margin ever.Right after that, she took a year off to have a baby girl, Lacee, who turned 2 the same week Pikus-Pace learned she was an official member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team.Pikus-Pace said she and her husband made the decision for her to give the Olympics one more shot while she was still pregnant. Her husband designed and built her pink sled, and she credits him and her extended family for making this trip to the games a reality."I have the best support system," she said. "My husband has been amazing. He's been Mr. Mom, the provider, he cleans the house; he does it all, really. ... And my sister, Amanda, she's my hero. She watches Lacee while Jason is at work, loves her like she's her own. This is for my whole family."The journey has been difficult, but at the same time joyful. And that will all be in her heart when she walks, sporting red, white and blue hair, into the opening ceremonies with the rest of the U.S. athletes this Friday."I have already packed waterproof mascara," she said, laughing. "I'm not going to try to cry, but it's been such an emotional ride, I feel so attached to it, I know I'm going to need it. I'm hoping to get the emotion behind me that night and then focus on competition after that."


E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com

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