Noelle Pikus Pace has a definite need for speed. The skeleton racer came back from losing a medal at the 2010 Olympics to score a silver medal at the 2014 Olympic Sochi games. We spoke exclusively with Noelle about how a great breakfast can make all the difference, being an Olympian (and a mom) and why every second matters.
Noelle, you’ve had a rough road leading to Sochi.
Going into 2006 Olympics, I was ranked first in the world. At our Olympic trials, I had finished a practice run, and I was waiting for skeleton athlete, and there was a 4-man bobsled coming. I took a step to jump out of the way, but it crashed into me and I broke my leg. I competed in the 2010 Olympics, and I was 1/10 of a second short of a medal.
What is that like? You can’t even register 1/10 of a second.
You can’t even blink that fast. I’ve tried! [laughs] if I gave my best, I had to be okay with that and tell myself that I did a nice job. That day, fourth was my best. I was happy with my result, but not satisfied. I knew at that point I was going to be done and have more kids, so I retired, and then I had my son, Traycen. I saw myself cutting oranges and going to the PTA. I was happy with that life.
Right, and then! [laughs] My husband said that this was my last chance to compete in the Olympics, so he asked me what it would take. I said the only way to do it would be to do it as a family. We traveled the world as a family with me competing, and I did really well.
Will this be your last Olympics?
Well, after you retire once, you never want to say that this is it! [laughs] I feel like I have fulfilled what I wanted to do. In 2010, I wanted to be an Olympian; we did so much to get there. This time, I’m going for a medal. I’m going for it!
I would think that it must be more challenging to compete as a mother.
At times it can be hard to block it all out, but my husband is amazing. He helps with my sled; he helps with the kids. We’ve been doing this right alongside each other. The more that I have on my plate, the more that I can focus on the task at hand.
How would you describe skeleton for those who don’t know?
My sport is crazy. It is basically being on what looks like a cookie sheet, you lay down on the bobsled track, you sprint 40 meters, jump on your stomach and go. You go down the track at 80-90 miles an hour; the track is about a mile long, and you’re done in about 50 seconds. Our chins are an inch off the ice or less. Sometimes I tap my chin on the ice when I’m going down the track just to make sure that I’m low enough. It’s pretty crazy.
How did you think to get into it?
I started with a great start. I had a track and field background. I live an hour from Park City, Utah, and I did bobsledding in my junior year and then switched to skeleton in my senior year of high school. It was the right time and the right place. I fell in love with it. I learned the importance of setting goals and nutrition. Starting every day with a great breakfast is critical.
Does that need for speed translate into other areas of your life?
I am the youngest of eight. So I was always trying to keep up with my siblings, and I was dared to do some crazy things, so yes, I guess it has translated. [laughs]
Has it slowed down a bit now that you’re a mom?
Yes, my responsibilities as a mom are always going to come first. But still I don’t find those dangers in skeleton; I know what people are seeing when they look at the sport.
What is the experience like?
It’s pretty unique. I have always loved individual sports, and to put that pressure on myself to put my sled down, sprinting and then jumping on the sled. You need extreme focus, and it’s like a puzzle putting all the pieces together as you try to cross the finish line as fast as you can. You feel the wind going past your face and in your helmet and it’s freezing cold outside. But it’s a blast, and it’s something that I fell in love with from the beginning. It’s something everyone should do. I don’t know why you don’t try it.
I can barely stand on a pair of skates. This is not an athletic person you’re looking at.[laughs] Hey you never know. You might love it.
Now, let’s talk about your work with Kellogg’s.
I have absolutely loved Kellogg’s since I was a little kid. One of my fondest memories was when I was little and my dad, who is an electrical engineer, would work the late shift. When he would come home, I would hear him come in, hug and kiss him, and we would open the cupboards very quietly, and we would both have a bowl of Rice Krispies together every night.
Now I’ve incorporated that tradition of Kellogg’s into my family as well. It’s quick, nutritious, and as a busy mom, it’s a great start to the day. At the beginning of the week, I fill sealable containers and fill them with cereal and put them on the shelf so that way my daughter can grab them and it gives me a little extra time in the morning. Their favorites are Corn Flakes and Corn Pops.
Wow you are so organized.
As an Olympian you need to have time management.