Krasnaya Polyana, Russia
When the moment finally arrived and Utah native Noelle Pikus-Pace crossed the finish line, jumped out of her sled and lost her mind, not even her husband knew what would happen next.
"What’s she doing?" Janson Pace wondered.
And here she came, climbing into the stands and hugging family members of all ages, celebrating her medal-winning achievement in the Olympic skeleton event Friday night.
Rather than agonize about a potential gold medal as the clubhouse leader, awaiting the final racer’s time in a designated spot of the the start/finish area as protocol suggests, Pikus-Pace was determined to celebrate, right then and there. She knew a silver medal was assured, and she was going to enjoy the moment.
It’s true that Great Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold wrote her own ending to this Olympic story, with a fourth run that gave her a convincing victory. But this was Pikus-Pace’s night, too. She embraced her husband during Yarnold’s entire ride.
Her response was unscripted, which made it that much better. "I just completely lost it," she said. "My heart was just filled and the emotions just overwhelmed me."
Every Olympic athlete overcomes challenges and every medal is well-earned, yet Pikus-Pace’s background elevates her achievement. No silver medal will have more meaning, that’s for sure, considering everything involved in bringing her to this moment at the Sanki Sliding Center.
So where to begin?
With the runaway bobsled that hit her as she stood at the end of a track in Calgary, severely breaking her leg and knocking her out of the 2006 Olympics?
With the disheartening fourth-place finish in Vancouver in 2010, barely missing a medal?
With the miscarriage during a third pregnancy in 2012, ultimately motivating her to come out of retirement with her husband’s urging?
Right to the end, there was drama. A concussion sustained last week had limited her training, not merely the back injury that she had cited previously.
Any of those elements would make this a good story. Mix them all together and it gets even better — let’s call it the best stuff this side of gold in these Games, for sure.
And if anyone needed reminding of how frustrating it is to finish fourth in the Olympics, there was U.S. teammate Katie Uhlaender, trying to process a result that left her "heartbroken" Friday.
Pikus-Pace happily would have walked away from the sport with that kind of memory, but her husband knew she could accomplish more. "I know you could be great," he told her.
The Olympics are filled with parent-child bonding moments, but they rarely involve mothers and youngsters. In this case, 6-year-old daughter Lacee and 2-year-old son Traycen watched Mom slide around the track and stand on the podium. So ended what Janson Pace labeled the family’s "fantastic adventure."
This is a second-place finish, technically, but it is a triumph on so many levels. Pikus-Pace is a genuine, Utah-produced athlete, having competed in track and field for Mountain View High School and Utah Valley University. She’s been supported by the most standard of Utah fundraising events, such as bake sales and a golf tournament, before corporate America discovered her and made her family’s world travels easier.
And it all happened on a sled her husband helped design. He’ll go back to work as an industrial engineer now, Noelle will give motherhood even more of her attention, and Lacee and Traycen will have something really cool for show-and-tell sessions in school in Eagle Mountain.
They’ll just have to ask for more time than usual, to share the whole story.
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