When Noelle Pikus-Pace’s husband, Janson, suggested she return to skeleton racing, she wasn’t immediately convinced.
She had retired after coming in fourth in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, by a fraction of a second. He had suggested going back to racing — and doing it as a family — after she had a miscarriage.
“I had so much anxiety about it,” Pikus-Pace, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a recent interview. They made it a matter of prayer.
“We had the most peaceful feeling,” said Pikus-Pace, who went on to win the silver medal earlier this year at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. “It’s been the greatest test of faith.”
Pikus-Pace shares lessons she’s learned from competing in skeleton (racing on an "oversized cookie sheet" down a bobsled track), coming back from an accident in 2006, challenges with body image and being a mother in her recent book “Focused: Keeping Your Life on Track, One Choice at a Time” (Deseret Book, $18.99).
“Let your light shine,” said Pikus-Pace, who regularly wears her Young Women medallion and torch necklaces. “Each of us has potential.”
Pikus-Pace had intentionally kept her World Cup medals in the basement so that her children could find and develop their own talents and pursue their dreams.
‘A big balance’
Pikus-Pace is a mother of two, an Olympic medalist and now an author. She’s also a business owner of Snowfire Hats, serves in her LDS ward as a Sunday School teacher for the 15- to 18-year-olds, loves to play softball and is scheduled to speak at several Time Out for Women events this fall, including the Salt Lake City event.
She has a bucket list that includes goals to learn Spanish and American Sign Language, along with running a half-marathon and learning to play the guitar.
And her family is planning to be pirates for Halloween.
“It’s a big balance,” she said of keeping everything going in life.
At home, she has a big whiteboard where she writes down what needs to be done and when because if it’s not written down, it doesn’t get done. And it’s rewarding to check things off, she said with a smile.
“Everything is tied together,” Pikus-Pace said of physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual well-being and how she learned that if one thing is lacking, then the rest will suffer. Her schedule on the board in her kitchen helps her plan and keep track of the daily goals.
When she was training as an athlete, she had a workout room set up in her basement so she could get her workouts done in the morning before her children woke up.
She knew if she waited until the end of the day, her workout likely wouldn’t get done with the quality she needed. She also would feel better physically and emotionally if she worked out early.
“As a mom, you just do the best you can,” said Pikus-Pace, adding an admonition not to get discouraged when something goes awry.
In “Focused,” she shares how when their oldest child was 1, there was a summer she and Janson were playing coed softball just about every available moment and really didn’t have time for much else. At one point, they realized they hadn’t mowed their grass in about eight weeks and later noticed a growing dead spot in their yard.
When they did finally mow it, they saw that grubs had eaten the grass from the roots and they had to tear it all out and replace it.
“Without balance in my life, I never would have been able to find the success that I have found as a student, friend, athlete, wife or mom,” she writes.
When Pikus-Pace came out of retirement and they went on the competition circuit as a family, they also brought copies of the Book of Mormon to give away.
She gave away one of the copies, with her testimony, to a teammate at the Olympics.
She had previously competed with this teammate, whom she hadn’t always gotten along with, and they had different views on a variety of issues.
At the Olympics, she had the impression that this teammate needed a Book of Mormon. “It was now or never,” Pikus-Pace said of her feelings two days before the competition would start.
“It was incredible to feel the Spirit high in the Sochi mountains,” Pikus-Pace said. She’s since been in touch with this teammate, who has been reading the book.
Pikus-Pace also shares in “Focused” how the 2003-04 World Cup skeleton season was lonely, miserable, discouraging and frustrating for her and she struggled to come back to compete during the next season.
She and Janson made it a matter of prayer, and she realized that if she was going to go back, she would have to make some changes in her spiritual foundation, resolve to reach out and be a friend, and change her perspective of measuring her happiness by how often she had the fastest time and comparing herself to others.
“It just became an epiphany,” Pikus-Pace said during the interview. “I would do my best and be happy with the result.”
During that next season, she kept her spiritual goals of reading her scriptures and praying and also reached out to others at the training facility.
It was also that season that she came in second at the national competition, qualifying her for the World Cup races. By the end of the 2005 season, she was the first U.S. woman to win the overall World Cup title in skeleton.
It’s true, Pikus-Pace said, that she races with chocolate in her skeleton sled.
It started when at one race the combination of her weight and the sled's was under by about 3 kg, or more than 6½ pounds, and she didn’t have any steel plates to add to the inside of her sled.
Pikus-Pace looked around her room and noticed that she had chocolate — and lots of it. She put it in plastic zip-close bags and taped it into her sled.
And it has to be solid chocolate.
"It can't have nuts or fruit because it could be shock-absorbing," Pikus-Pace said.
If she ate any during competitions, she would leave the package in her sled so she would know how much to replace.
She started writing “Focused” at the beginning of March when she got home from the Olympics in early March and turned in the manuscript on April 15.
Pikus-Pace said that she had been keeping track of lessons she had learned and little analogies she had seen in her life and already had five or six of them outlined when she went to write.
In the 137-page book, each of the 10 chapters shares a lesson she learned, along with experiences and stories, from dead grass in her yard to winning an Olympic medal, jumping into the crowd after her final race to find her family and saying “we did it.”
She also shares about when she was at a photo shoot for the Olympians' clothing and everything they gave her didn’t fit — she felt “like a penguin at a flamingo exhibit” — and what it took to come back from the bobsled accident that took her out of the running for the 2006 Olympics. She also includes how she was first introduced to bobsledding and, later, skeleton racing.
Interspersed among the stories are scriptures, poems and quotes, including some from LDS Church leaders, and also photos from her races and training. She was approached by Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew about writing a book before any of her Olympic races had started.
"It's been my dream to write a book," Pikus-Pace said. She said she’s not quite finished writing yet as she would like to possibly pen picture books.
Pikus-Pace hopes that “Focused” can help make one person’s life “get a little better every day.”
If you go ...
What: Noelle Pikus-Pace book signing
When: Friday, Oct. 3, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Deseret Book, Salt Lake downtown store, 45 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
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