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.
"I am pushing faster than I ever have before," she said. "I'm getting older; I have two kids, and I feel like it's crazy to even think about doing this. But this is my dream come true."
That does not mean it is easy.
Finding time to train with two small children has been challenging.
"But to be able to do something I love and have my family there by my side, I feel very blessed," she said. "I feel like it's making all the difference."
At this point, she's not thinking about the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, although that seems a realistic goal. The Orem native and UVU-alum is focused on competing in enough races this winter so she can compete in the 2013 World Championships in February.
"I'd have to compete in a lot of races," she said. The rules require her to compete in races on three different tracks within a 24-month period before she's even eligible to compete in World Cups. And in order to make an Olympic team, she'd need to earn points on the World Cup circuit.
She will be competing in the National Trials in Park City on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and in America's Cup Nov. 7 and 8, and both races are free and open to the public.
While Pikus-Pace seems to be adapting to professional sports with relative ease, she said a lot changed in her three years away.
"There are a lot of new athletes; I wanted to see old faces, but it's great to see the program evolving," she said. "The coaches are also different and they're incredible. There is so much more depth, and many of the athletes are younger. Most of them are coming from track and field background."
One familiar face for fans will be that of Olympic sprinter Lolo Jones, who made the U.S. women's bobsled team.
"This is the most depth I've ever seen in the program," she said. "It's really exciting to see how the sport is growing."
In addition to her personal goals, she and her teammates are hoping to reclaim the World Cup spot that the U.S. lost last season.
"We're only allowed two women on the World Cup team," she said, referring to restrictions placed on nations by the sport's international governing body. "We want to try and get that third spot. We have to beat out one of the top four nations. Right now we're fifth." Pikus-Pace is grateful for the support of her fans and the community because without them, she wouldn't be chasing this second chance. She said finishing fourth has nothing to do with her desire to revive her skeleton career.
"It really has nothing to do with that," she said. "I've never looked back at that. I gave it 100 percent, and I knew I could give no more on that day. I felt good; I felt at peace, and that's all I could ever ask for."
Winning a medal was her goal, but it was not her purpose.
"I wanted to be an Olympian," she said. "The medal was never my focus. It wasn't so much about winning but about who you can become along the way."
She said she hopes her children, her family and even other mothers see her as an example of what you can do with faith, love and support.
"We really want to go and represent good family values," she said. "We want to help impact others and inspire them to have the faith to follow their dreams. We want to help them become better people."
And don't let the success fool you, she laughs.
"I hope (moms) know they can do anything," she said. "After I had Traycen, I had no idea what having a second child would do to my body. I threw my back out; I didn't want to work out; I was so out of shape. It was really hard balancing two kids, and just living. I had no idea how to do it. I want my children to know that once you put your mind to something, anything is possible. Just have faith that everything happens for a reason."
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