Richard Heathcote, Getty Images
OREM — She was just another mother reveling in the kinds of victories that come with snuggling a baby, reading to a toddler and trying to make a house a home when he suggested a trip down memory lane.
She wasn't sure she wanted to go.
He was persuasive.
"I really didn't want to," said Noelle Pikus-Pace, who gave up competing in one of the world's most dangerous sports — skeleton — to take on one of society's most under-appreciated roles — stay-at-home mother. "I was completely done when I retired. After the Olympics, I was completely done and not planning on coming back."
But no one knows better than Pikus-Pace that life, like sports, rarely goes as planned.
Still, the 2007 world champion and 2010 Olympian was so certain her career in skeleton was over, she sold nearly everything she owned. She kept only a few pieces of memorabila, including the sled that her husband, Janson Pace, built for her after a horrific accident broke her leg and kept her from making the 2006 U.S. Olympic team.
After finishing fourth — one-tenth of a second from a bronze medal — in the Vancouver Winter Games, Pikus-Pace slipped away from the life of a world-class athlete and tried to become a world-class mom. She dedicated herself to raising her daughter Laycee (now 4) and had a son, Traycen, in March 2011.
"My priorities were different," said Pikus-Pace. "We have two kids, and they were my priority. But my husband said, 'We're only getting older, and we're at a point in our lives where you can still do this. Just go up and see if you still love it, see if you're still fast. Let's just see what happens.’ ”
So one day last fall, the Pace family made the one-hour drive to the Utah Olympic Park in Park City where the mother of two jumped on a sled and navigated the icy track with just as much precision as she did three years ago.
It was as if she'd never left.
"I still loved it," said Pikus-Pace. "My husband has always loved it. I think it's just exciting for us. He's my number one fan. He knew I still loved the sport; I never stopped loving it. But my priorities were different."
Their life was so different, in fact, that even though she still has both the skill and the passion, she told her husband after that trip, "It was fun, but I'm not going back."
She made an occasional trip to Park City throughout the winter, but it was not in preparation for a comeback. Sliding simply became her hobby.
It wasn't until June of 2012 that the couple came up with a way for the 29-year-old Pikus-Pace to think about competing on a world stage again.
"I told (Janson), 'The only way I can do this is if we do it as a family," she said of her comeback, which officially began this summer. "I can't leave my family for months to train and compete. We've been trying to raise money, having some fundraisers, and so far it's been such a blessing."
And it's apparently been the right choice.
Not only is Pikus-Pace back in the game, she's dominating it.
In two races at Lake Placid, N.Y., last weekend, she led the women's field by an almost unheard of 1.91 seconds. In a sport where fractions of seconds separate competitors, Pikus-Pace is blowing the competition off the track.
"I just feel good," she said laughing. "I feel confident. I feel like we're where we're supposed to be. I feel like it makes all the difference in the world having my family here and seeing them at the start." Pikus-Pace has a new strength and conditioning coach who worked with her throughout the summer.
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