Noelle Pikus-Pace's modern miracle on ice
As fall arrived in Orem, Utah, in 2012, Noelle Pikus-Pace sat in the driver’s seat of her car and slowly slid her finger to open the envelope she had just received from a woman she’d met less than two months prior.
Inside was a check for $30,000, and with it Pikus-Pace’s life—and her Olympic dreams—completely changed.
“I just started bawling,” the American skeleton slider says. “Really, truthfully, that's the only way that I'm able to be where I am now, because that helped me to compete [for the Olympic] season with my family.”
In 2005, the Utah native had golden dreams of winning a medal at the Olympics before a freak accident (an errant sled crashed into her on the track) caused her to miss the 2006 Games, where she would have been one of the favorites. But after she was a disappointing fourth place in Vancouver, Pikus-Pace decided to retire from the sport to continue to build her family with her husband, Janson and daughter, Lacee Lynne, born in 2008.
Yet after having a second child—Traycen, born in March 2011—Pikus-Pace suffered a miscarriage in spring 2012 that she says began a discussion about her coming back to skeleton.
Embedded video_content_type: Pikus-Pace takes her family for a ride
“It was the ultimate factor in me deciding that I should come back and compete,” says the full-time mom of the miscarriage. “But that was one of the most difficult and trying times that my husband and I have gone through. We found out that it was a baby girl and she had a healthy heartbeat and then, I had a miscarriage.”
Pikus-Pace wasn’t emotionally ready to be pregnant again, and she and Janson saw it as a sign that she should give the Olympics another try.
But not without her family by her side—which is where the $30,000 comes in.
“We felt like if we could do this as a family, if we could travel all together … it’s a second chance,” says Pikus-Pace, who won the World Championships in 2007. “So my husband comes. My kids come. We all travel together.”
Her husband also cares for Noelle’s sled. Janson has a degree in drafting and technology and built Pikus-Pace’s sled with donated materials, fixing and tweaking it while on the road.
The five-figure donation helped Pikus-Pace reach a $50,000 goal that would cover expenses as she criss-crossed the country and globe in search of an elusive Olympic medal with Janson, Lacee and Traycen in tow.
"She's just a really wonderful American story," says Kalleen Lund, Pikus-Pace's donor. "She doesn't come from a wealthy background; it's all hard work and effort. She's a mother and a wife and has two little ones at home. She's very busy with her work and her training, so we decided to help her financially."
Check deposited, Noelle's comeback results confirmed that the Pikus-Pace family-travel plan was working: the 30-year-old was on the medal podium at five World Cup stops last season, placing second at the 2013 World Championships and winning gold in Austria and—most importantly—the Sochi track, which will be used for the 2014 Games.
Embedded video_content_type: Pikus-Pace on the 'miraculous' donation
“Results are results,” says a goal-oriented Pikus-Pace, who trains between meal times, play dates and volunteering at her church. “I can build on that – it’s nice to take it, pat myself on the back for what I did – and now look forward to what I need to do moving forward.”
On the road, five-year-old Lacee has made friends with the daughter of British slider Shelley Rudman—a rival of Pikus-Pace’s—Ella, and oftentimes Noelle and Janson find their kids dining with different teams in the athlete hotel restaurants, the kids seeing the global gatherings as their personal playgrounds.
“That’s what the Olympics are all about, bringing nations together, and who better to do that than a child?” says Pikus-Pace.
Should she make the Olympic team, the entire Pikus-Pace clan will travel to Russia, something made possible by a tragic turn of events—and then the generosity of a near-stranger.
“Kalleen told me, ‘You know, we just feel like this is what we're supposed to do for ya,'” Pikus-Pace recalls. “We’re just so blessed and so fortunate to have her and to have all those others that have donated and to help and support us to get to where we are.”
"It became pretty clear with her stretched life that she needed to split her time between her kids and training and making a living and raising money," Lund describes, having met Noelle at an athlete event late in the summer of 2012, saying she was a "bright beacon" in the room. "Any time she was trying to spend to make money, she was taking away from her training. We talked about that and we decided that we could take that burden away for her. We felt like we could make a difference."
For Pikus-Pace, the difference could be one last chance at the podium, all from a chance meeting with someone who saw the determination of a hungry mother.
“After I finished competing [last season], my husband and kids and I, we all went over to their house,” Pikus-Pace says of Lund and her husband. “They’re the most humble, gracious, down-to-earth people I've ever met. We just talked with them and they're just so loving and caring and genuinely good people.”
“And we're … ” it’s here that Pikus-Pace lets out a big sigh. “It—it truthfully was one of the most incredible miracles of my life.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: All-Access with skeleton slider Noelle Pikus-Pace