For Skeleton Medalist, Path To Podium Meant Family Road Trip

Noelle Pikus-Pace may have just won silver for the U.S. in skeleton, but the Olympian was once close to retirement after tragedy. She talks about her return to the sport and the medal podium.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Winter Olympics are over, and the final medal count is in. Russia came out on top, with 33 medals. And the United States was not far behind, with a total of 28. Contributing to that tally was Noelle Pikus-Pace. She took silver in women's skeleton. That's the sport in which athletes barrel down an icy track on a sled, head-first, at 90 miles per hour.

Pikus-Pace was a favorite going into the race. This was a second chance for her, after coming in fourth place at the Vancouver Olympics. She had actually retired and in Sochi, she finally became an Olympic medalist. That moment is one that many who watched will remember. Noelle Pikus-Pace hopped off her sled, looked for her family and when she saw them behind a fence, she didn't let that stand in her way - climbed it to reach them.

And we are now reaching her from our New York bureau today. Welcome to the program, and congratulations.

NOELLE PIKUS-PACE: Thank you. Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: Tell us about that moment. What was it like when you finished that race?

PIKUS-PACE: Wow. It was absolutely incredible. And honestly, it just was kind of a blur. You know, I - right when I crossed that finish line, the first thing I wanted to do when I found out I had earned a medal was to be with my family. And I knew the only thing keeping me from them was this wall. And immediately, I just jumped over the wall and jumped up into the stands. And before I knew it, I was in my husband's arm, just saying we did it! We did it! We did it! And it's just - it was a dream come true.

SIEGEL: This was the moment for you overcoming a personal tragedy. I want you to talk about what happened after your retirement from skeleton.

PIKUS-PACE: Yes. So in April of 2012, I was actually pregnant with our third child, and I had a miscarriage at 18 weeks. And it was devastating. It was - I mean, heartbreaking beyond anything I can describe. But my husband came up to me and he said, you know - obviously, I needed a break physically and mentally, emotionally. And he said, what if we go back to doing skeleton, and what if we could do it as a family?

And at that point, we decided to be able to try and find people that would help us and support us to, you know, help pay our way and just be there so that we could make it happen. And we were able to do it. And that's really the only way that I'm able to sit here talking to you, with this silver medal.

SIEGEL: How big a proposition is that to say, let's try for two years, traveling as a family with two little kids; everyone's life built around Mom's schedule in skeleton.

PIKUS-PACE: It's a huge sacrifice. It's a huge sacrifice on all of our part. You know, my husband had to take a leave of absence for work, my kids not being able to be around their friends. And we've been on the road for all the World Cups, for - let's see - October, November, December, January, February; now, it's almost March; almost six months, so...

SIEGEL: Six months.

PIKUS-PACE: ...it's been a long trip.

SIEGEL: In hotel rooms.

PIKUS-PACE: In hotel rooms, living out of the same suitcases, wearing the same clothes. (Laughter)

SIEGEL: And all this time, your husband on leave from his job?

PIKUS-PACE: All this time on leave - yep. So I mean, it's the only way we could do it, you know, with him watching the kids, with him helping me with my sled, with my equipment. It really has been a whole sacrifice on all of our parts and I - man, I just can't thank him enough, and give him enough of my love.

SIEGEL: Well, nowadays, you are a - well, you're either 30 or 29, just between you and me.

PIKUS-PACE: Oh, thank you. I'm 31.

SIEGEL: You're 31, I'm sorry. I didn't - I understated that.

PIKUS-PACE: Thank you. (Laughter)

SIEGEL: You know, so there's a little bit of time left in your life here. What do you do post-skeleton?

PIKUS-PACE: You know, now I really just want to be at home, be a mom. I have a hat business, which is a lot of fun.

SIEGEL: A hat business?

PIKUS-PACE: I do. I have a hat business.

SIEGEL: Are they like, sportswear - athletic hats or...

PIKUS-PACE: So they're knit beanies; they're winter hats with hair on the top.

SIEGEL: What did you mean, with hair on top?

PIKUS-PACE: So it has, like, fake fur on the top, and it makes it look like hair. It makes it give this crazy, unique, fun sports look. And they've been a lot of fun. We sell them online, and we're hoping to expand out.

SIEGEL: So you've got the children, you've got the hats with the phony hair...

PIKUS-PACE: And I want to write a book.

SIEGEL: You want to write a book, really?

PIKUS-PACE: I do. (Laughter)

SIEGEL: Will it be kind of an inspirational book or...

PIKUS-PACE: Yeah, I think so. You know, I've had a couple different thoughts, whether it's going to be more autobiography or just more inspirational. I think I'd like to go with inspirational. I hope to be able to show an example of perseverance that others can follow, and that dreams can come true.

SIEGEL: Has somebody written the book yet for skeleton that's like, the equivalent of Ted Williams on "The Art of Hitting"? You know, the...

PIKUS-PACE: I don't think so. Hey, there's an idea. (Laughter)

SIEGEL: Could it be a long book, or would that be relatively short - to describe the skeleton?

PIKUS-PACE: Hmm, maybe like, 100 pages. I think that would be a good size.

SIEGEL: Well, just before you do that, if you could pass on to people listening who might consider skeleton, some essential secret of the event - or the most important thing to bear in mind, as you're barreling down that track. What is it?

PIKUS-PACE: One of the most important things while you're barreling down is to relax, and to take the bumps as they come. And that's a great analogy for life as well - is just kind of relax, take a step back and take the bumps as they come, and make the best of it.

SIEGEL: Why? But why should you be relaxed? Why shouldn't you be rigid and...

PIKUS-PACE: If you're rigid, if you're stiff, you're going to be bouncing off of your sled and so every time that you have friction on the ice, anytime there's movement on the sled that shouldn't be there, you're going to be losing speed. So you want to melt into your sled. You want to kind of become one with your sled, and it will make your speed a lot faster.

SIEGEL: You want to be a human shock absorber as you're doing that.

PIKUS-PACE: That's right. (Laughter)

SIEGEL: Well, once again, congratulations on the silver medal.

PIKUS-PACE: Thank you so much.

SIEGEL: That's Noelle Pikus-Pace, U.S. silver medalist in skeleton, speaking to us from New York. And a suggestion from our New York engineer, Neal Rauch.

NEAL RAUCH: Maybe she could clang the medal on the table for you.

PIKUS-PACE: Oh, yeah, here it is.

SIEGEL: Oh, you have the medal with you.

PIKUS-PACE: I do. I do. You want to hear it? Here it goes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEDAL HITTING TABLE)

PIKUS-PACE: That was a good one.

SIEGEL: That was a very good one.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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