An Olympic career that started with tears of pain ended with tears of joy on Friday night as U.S. skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace celebrated a perfect ending to her career with a silver medal around her neck and her family by her side.
After averaging four-58 second runs at the Sanki Sliding Center, Pikus-Pace clinched a spot on the podium with a total time of 3:53.8, and immediately climbed into the stands and celebrated with her two kids and husband as they got to see “mommy” win her first and last Olympic medal to end her skeleton career.
The skeleton supermom had endless amount of joyful tears running down her face and couldn’t stop smiling when she was awarded her silver medal. In the record books, it was a silver medal for Pikus-Pace but it was a golden Olympic trip for the Utah State Valley alum.
“It was actually very, very fulfilling and exactly what I wanted it to be and to be able to cross that finish line and to see my family there – I mean it was just the perfect moment,” said Pikus-Pace in an interview with John Tautges and Kevin Kugler after winning silver.
It was a storybook ending, as the 31-year-old skeleton racer finally earned an Olympic medal after a long battle to the podium throughout her career. The Utah native began her career in 2001, and was an emerging star in 2005 when she won silver at the World Championships in Calgary, Canada with medal ambitions for the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. But days later her dreams were shattered along with her leg at the Canada Olympic Park when a four-man bobsleigh failed to brake at the finish line and launched out of the track striking Pikus-Pace and teammate Lee Ann Parsely.
After the freak accident, Pikus-Pace returned to competition just seven weeks later after surgery to repair her lower right leg. Her dreams of making her Olympic debut at the 2006 Winter Games vanished down the windy track as she finished 20th at the World Cup stage.
A year later after missing her chance to compete in the Turin Winter Olympics, Pikus-Pace had her best skeleton season as she was crowned World Champion in 2007 in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Following her victorious season she took a year off the icy track to have her first child, Lacee Lynne Pace. The new mom returned to the track a year later in top form once again to compete in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
She would end up making the 2010 Olympic team after finishing 5th on the World Cup stage months before. But it would end in another heartbreak in Canada as Pikus-Pace missed her shot at a bronze medal by a tenth of a second and at the end of the Olympic games she announced her retirement.
A year into her retirement, Pikus-Pace gave birth to her son, Tracycen. In an interview after winning silver, the Olympic mother revealed she had a miscarriage after having her son while in retirement. It was another heartache for Pikus-Pace.
In the summer of 2012, her husband encouraged her to get back on the track and compete again after difficulties coping with her loss.
She came out of retirement in hopes to make it on the Olympic podium in Sochi. But in under one condition to have her family by her last season before the Olympics. Her comeback was still up in the air because she wanted her family to be with her and she didn’t want to deal with leaving her children for five months as competition was about to begin. Her family needed $60,000 to travel all together – they only had $30,000. But through the enormous generosity of a friend – she was given a check for $30,000 a week before her competitive season began, and her road to Sochi was still in reach.
The fastest mom on ice earned her spot on the Olympic team by sweeping the national selection races series, and grabbing silver in the 2013 Women’s skeleton event at the World Championships in St. Moritz and helping Team USA win gold in the team event in her final season.
In her second Olympic appearance, the determined and competitive mother got her Olympic moment as she won silver in Sochi to end her remarkable career.
It’s stories like these that make the Olympics so special and on another level than any sports event around the world. Every four years, summer or winter – an athlete inspires a nation through their hard work ethic and their obstacles to earn a spot on the Olympic team. It’s the reason why we root for them because of their unboxed will to achieve their dreams – it’s not about the money or fame. It’s about a medal that holds their journey and the endless support they received during their low moments, and what they can achieve when the odds are against them. For an athlete to wait a long four years, maybe even more before grabbing an Olympic medal is worth watching and cheering for.
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