When former World Cup skeleton champion Noelle Pikus-Pace decided to come out of retirement and take one more shot at an Olympic medal in 2014, she knew this would be much different than her previous experience in 2010.
This time it would be all about doing it with her family.
"To be able to experience this as a family, I get to see things through the eyes of my little five-year-old," Pikus-Pace said. "She may not quite understand it fully or what it means to compete at the Olympic games, she gets that it’s something special, something that I and my husband have sacrificed a lot for.
“She sees me working out every day and I ask her if she knows why. She says, ‘yeah, to go to the Olympics.’ The biggest thing I want her to take away from it is that she can do anything."
She said that her children, five-year-old Lacee and two-year-old Traycen, are at the point in life where they don't worry about where she places but just enjoy seeing her compete.
"They are like ‘yay, mommy! you did a good job,’" she added. “Although the little one is a little disappointed if she doesn’t get a necklace (a medal). It’s her eventually that gets it.”
With the winter season over, Pikus-Pace took a break from her rigorous training regimen and family responsibilities to return to UVU, her alma-mater, and speak at the Wolverine Club luncheon Monday afternoon.
"It’s incredible to come back," she said. "It’s amazing to see the growth that UVU has had over the past years. I graduated in 2005 and to see that growth has been exponential. It’s a great time to be a part of UVU."
UVU athletic director Mike Jacobson said the school always appreciates having one of the Wolverine legends return.
"There is no question that the recognition she has brought to our university through her competitive success has been huge for us," he said. "Every year that she’s competing, several times it’s mentioned that this is where she got her start. You can’t pay for that kind of advertising. The thing we are most pleased with though is that she is such a great person. She talks often about her family and how important they are, and she doesn’t forget her roots."
The skeleton champion just kept smiling as she described being able to be with her family — even though it does present some challenges when out competing.
“When I was on my own, I did my things when I needed to do them,” she said. “Now the kids are waking up in the middle of the night, we’re all up in the middle of the night the night before a race. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. To have them there and to see them cheering, I know they are safe and that I have their love and support no matter what happens.”
She said that her husband, Janson, will be at the top of the skeleton track at the start of the first run, then make their way to the bottom to watch her complete the second run.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “They are the first ones I’m looking for right when I cross that finish line. I pop my head up, looking around trying to find them.”
Pikus-Pace credits her former university for putting her on the track to be able to enjoy all of the benefits of both competition and life.
“I feel very blessed with the opportunities that I have had and I truly believe that I could not be where I am today without UVU,” Pikus-Pace said. “I wouldn’t be able to go to the olympics or have the success that I’ve had without the education and the help that I had from UVU. It has supported me all along the way along with the whole community, Orem, Provo, Utah County. This has been an amazing place to live, to develop and to become what I am today.”
Jacobson firmly believes that athletes like Pikus-Pace and NBA player Ronnie Price are merely laying the groundwork for what Wolverine athletes will achieve.
“We think that as we compete at the highest level, we’re going to have athletes who are going to be able to make a name for themselves,” Jacobson said. “We’ve had several athletes who have left here who have done pretty well. The more we can do that, it’s going to make Utah Valley University and Orem, Utah, more represented around the country.”
Even with all the success and attention for everything she’s done, Pikus-Pace said she feels like she can get away from it to some extent when she’s at home in Eagle Mountain.
“Out there I’m Noelle Pace, while when I compete in sports I’m Noelle Pikus-Pace,” she said. “There is that little shift. My neighbors, my friends, they all know I compete, that I’m going for the Olympics. They are all extremely supportive of me going and I truly couldn’t do it without them.”
She explained that her family raised $50,000 in donations for the past World Cup season and now is on a journey to repeat that to be able to chase her Olympic dream.
Anyone wishing to support Pikus-Pace and her family in their quest to get to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympics can donate by clicking the link at www.noellepikuspace.com.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.