Pikus-Pace took the 2007-08 season off and gave birth to her daughter, Lacee Lynne Pace, on Jan. 18, 2008. She returned to racing the following season and says she often struggled with her focus. Lacee sometimes traveled with her but often stayed at home, where Pikus-Pace's husband, mom and sister helped care for her. "It has its moments when it's really, really difficult, and it has its moments when it's really great," Pikus-Pace says of motherhood. "I think the biggest challenge with it is just leaving obviously for months at a time and not having my daughter with me and trying to go out there and focus 100% on my competitions and then knowing she is back at home. But it's been really rewarding, and I wouldn't have it any other way ... She's the best thing that has ever happened to me." Pikus-Pace is one several skeleton athletes, including 2006 Olympic gold medalist Maya Pedersen and silver medalist Shelley Rudman, juggling motherhood with World Cup racing. She plans to retire after the Vancouver Games. "It's just been a long journey, and I was planning on retiring after 2006," Pikus-Pace explains. "I want to be home and raise Lacee and have more kids, so I will be done after Vancouver."
On October 19, 2005, Pikus-Pace was hit by a four-man bobsled in a freak accident at Calgary Olympic Park. The brakeman in the bobsled failed to engage the brakes after crossing the finish line, and the sled continued to travel through the out run of the track. Pikus-Pace, along with four of her teammates, was standing at the end of the track waiting to be picked up by a truck after completing a training run. She says that she heard the bobsled coming, but, assuming that the brakes would be engaged, estimated that she had enough time to grab her sled and get out of the way. Instead she sustained a compound fracture of her lower right leg, with breaks to both her tibia and fibula and underwent emergency surgery. Doctors inserted a titanium rod into her leg to support the bones. She was released from the hospital on Oct. 23, and returned home to Utah to begin intensive rehabilitation, sometimes up to eight hours per day.
After her accident, Pikus-Pace was awarded a place on the World Cup team as a discretionary selection on the basis of a medical waiver. She returned to the circuit for the season's third event in Igls, Austria on Dec. 9, six weeks after her accident. But her remarkable comeback fell short when she failed to make up enough ground - both for the U.S. team and herself - to earn an Olympic spot. Katie Uhlaender claimed the lone American berth. "That was the most devastating time of my life," Pikus-Pace says. "I didn't think it would be that hard. I didn't know that my heart was that set on going until after it was taken from me." She traveled to Italy as the alternate, and, even though she had the opportunity to attend the competition in person, she opted instead to watch on the television in her hotel room. "I couldn't even get myself to go," she says. "I was such a mess."
After missing out on the Torino Games, Pikus-Pace returned that fall at full force. "That next season I competed, and I ended up second in the world," she explains, "But even better than that, I ended up winning the World Championships by the largest margin in the history of skeleton. Going into that World Championship race in Switzerland, I knew that I wanted to make that my Olympic moment ... And after I crossed the finish line on my fourth run down the track and I had the top runs after all four runs, there was just tears of joy, and after that I was finally able to let down and be like: 'Okay, wow. I did it.' ... You know, even though leading into the Olympics I didn't have a doubt that I could be on that podium ... After I broke my leg it was like: Could I have made it? Could I have done well, had this not happened? How well would I have done? I don't know. And after I won World Championships, it was almost like bringing that confidence back to me saying: Look, you're back on top again." She became the first American woman ever to win the world title in skeleton.
Of approaching the Games this time around, Pikus-Pace says: "It is a different mindset. As much as I wish I could go back to the moment that all that happened, that it changed for me, everything happens for a reason. I was in a good position and I was in a very good position mentally, like I just had so much confidence going into it, and now I just feel like I'm trying to get back to that point, and trying to have that confidence again going into 2010. And for me it has changed in the sense that it's more about e becoming an Olympian and chasing after the dream of becoming an Olympian and being there for my daughter - to just show her that you never give up on your dreams. You just go after it and you can do anything."
World Cup champ
The season prior to her injury, Pikus-Pace had the best results of her career and of any American woman in history. She became the first U.S. woman ever to claim the overall World Cup title and won the silver medal at the 2005 World Championships in her debut at the event, achieving what was then the highest finish ever for a U.S. woman (until she won gold two years later).
Pikus-Pace tapes witty messages on her sled for competitions, a practice she says helps keep her relaxed before a race and reminds her to stay loose. At 2009 Worlds she wrote, "It is impossible to lick your elbow," inspiring the hundreds of school children in attendance to attempt exactly that. Some other examples include "Ostriches Run 40 mph," "Don't Try This at Home," and "Keep Arms and Legs Inside." Known to race in a pink suit on a pink sled, Pikus-Pace also always wears glitter on race days. "I like to be light and happy have a good time," she explains. "If I'm not having fun, then I don't want to be doing this sport." She also keeps a lucky Bazooka Joe comic from prior to the Torino Games in her helmet. "It said something along the lines of you'll be a fine swimmer and may make the Olympic team," she explains. "It was just like it was a sign. It was pretty funny though, and it was a joke almost. I stuck it in my helmet, and I still have it there.
Pikus-Pace competed in heptathlon throughout college. She started out on a track and field scholarship at University of Utah but found it was too much to juggle both sports as she progressed in skeleton. After a brief stint at a junior college, she enrolled at Utah Valley State, where her husband, Janson Pace, was also a student. During that time she did not accept skeleton prize money in order to maintain her NCAA eligibility. Pikus-Pace graduated from Utah Valley State in 2005 with a degree in community health and physical education. In 2007, she earned an MBA from Colorado Technical University.
Pikus-Pace first tried bobsled at the suggestion of her track coach at Mountain View High School, Steve Revelli. 2006 Olympic silver medalist Shauna Rohbock also attended Mountain View. Pikus-Pace says she loved it right away, but the bobsled program was soon suspended. Her coaches put her in skeleton, assuring her that it would make her a better bobsledder when the program came back. But by the following year, when she finally had the option to go back, Pikus-Pace had already fallen in love with skeleton. She says her family thought that her involvement in skeleton was crazy at first, but now most of them have even tried it themselves.
Noelle and Janson were married in 107-degree weather on July 12, 2002. They both grew up in the same Orem neighborhood but say they didn't really know each other as children. Pikus-Pace is the youngest of eight siblings and says that growing up she "got shoved off couches and thrown off things people shouldn't be thrown off of." One of her favorite anecdotes happened when Pikus-Pace was around 15. She and her siblings accidentally set the neighbors' hedges on fire while playing with firecrackers on the Fourth of July. Her sister called 911, and the police dispatcher who answered the phone turned out to be their mother. The close-knit Pikus family regularly plays softball together during the summer.