U.S. skeleton athlete Noelle Pikus-Pace finds joy and growth in facing challenges
Rick Bowmer, AP
PARK CITY — Noelle Pikus-Pace has faced some dark moments in her young life.
But instead of being swallowed by the inevitable sadness or crippled by the questions, the top U.S. skeleton athlete has made those painful situations the places she shines brightest.
Like when a runaway bobsled smashed into her during Olympic trials in 2005. The accident left her with a rod in her leg that repaired a compound fracture and a shattered Olympic dream.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, she took a year off to start a family and then returned to one of the world’s most dangerous sports with the kind of zeal and commitment that helped her earn a place on the 2010 Olympic team.
In Vancouver she earned a fourth-place finish — just a 10th of a second away from a bronze medal.
“I was happy, but not satisfied with my fourth-place finish,” said Pikus-Pace, who won her third straight skeleton race of team selections Monday morning at the Utah Olympic Park. “I retired, and thought, ‘This is great, I can relax.’ ”
The Mountain View High alum gave birth to her second child and began speaking to young people about the kind of commitment it takes to make a dream reality. In those speeches, she showed her final run in Vancouver, where she saw the small mistakes that added up to that fourth-place finish.
“I’ve thought about that quite a bit, and it just goes to show that it’s the small things that make a big difference,” the Orem native said. “They can work in your benefit or to the negative.”
Pikus-Pace being who she is, she’s now making that knowledge, that nagging feeling that she’s capable of better, work in her favor. But she might not be among the favorites for a gold medal in skeleton if it weren’t for another heartbreak.
In the spring of 2012, Pikus-Pace had a miscarriage at 18 weeks.
“We were planning on growing our family, having more kids, and after that happened, I was mentally gone,” she said. “I was physically, spiritually, in all aspects, I was drained. It was actually my husband who, again, brought back the point of no regrets.”
Just as he did when he built her a specially designed sled for her 2010 comeback, he asked her if she was really finished with the sport that sends athletes down an icy track at 90 miles an hour.
“A part of me wanted to continue on with my family and get pregnant really quick, have another baby,” she said. “But I knew that emotionally, I couldn’t take it. And physically I needed a break. We’d just found out it was a little girl, and we had all of these plans.” Her voice trails off momentarily contemplating what if, and then the smile slides across her face and the spark returns to her eye.
“That was in April of 2012,” she said. “June 1, 2012, that’s when we decided, let’s do this, but we’re doing it as a family.”
Pikus-Pace travels a lot competing in what is mostly a European sport. She knew she couldn’t revive her dream of earning an Olympic medal in the sport she loves without the people she loves most by her side. So they fundraise, work with sponsors and they’re frugal.
At every race, wherever it happens, her husband and two children are in the crowd.
“Some probably think it’s a little bit crazy, but when my results come, they must think there is something to it,” she said laughing.
Her results are no joke. Not only has she cemented herself as the best U.S. female skeleton athlete, she won gold on the Sochi track in last year’s World Cup, in addition to earning silver at World Championships.
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