From Ultimate Tragedy to Chasing the Gold: One Mom’s Olympic Journey
What with the Russian Deputy Prime minister telling gay Olympians that they’re welcome in Sochi—as long as they don’t touch any children while they’re there (seriously, that happened); reports of polluted water in Sochi hotel rooms; bizarre bathroom surveillance; and possibly unsafe sporting venues, the 2014 Sochi Olympics haven’t exactly been the feel-good, fuzzy-feeling event that the world was hoping for. So, if you’re like me, and are feeling a little grouchy about the games, I’ve got the one story will get you all turned around on the matter.
This Thursday and Friday, American athlete Noelle Pikus-Pace will be hurtling down the Olympic skeleton course in Sochi, face-first, at roughly 90 miles per hour. You heard me. Face-first. That’s pretty captivating stuff, but when you hear Noelle’s story, you’ll be ready to hand the woman a gold medal.
Back in 2010, already a world champion in skeleton, Noelle retired from her sport so she could spend more time with her husband and two small children. “It had been me saying goodbye, getting on an airplane, and taking off. There was no way we could afford to pay for everyone to travel with me, so I missed so many family milestones when I was training or on the road—I’d come home, and my daughter was already walking. I missed her first birthday. Something had to change.”
Roughly two years after calling it quits, Noelle and her family got big news: they were expecting another baby. “We were so excited to have a new little baby girl in our home. We started thinking about names and decorations, picking out cute little outfits and things. But when I was 18 weeks pregnant, that time when you think everything’s fine, I miscarried.”
“I just remember bawling and bawling. I had just gone in for an ultrasound. They’d told me the heart looked fine. The baby looked fine. I had nothing to worry about. But here I was, so utterly heartbroken,” she told me. “After my miscarriage, anytime I’d see a pregnant woman, up until my due date, I’d just think that’s supposed to be me right now. I was still counting down the weeks of pregnancy—which is strange, maybe, but I couldn’t help it. I just kept thinking about how I was supposed to be ‘this far along’ by now, or ‘I’m supposed to have a baby now.’ It was really, really difficult.”
Noelle’s husband, Janson, wanted to do anything he could to help Noelle through the grief and depression she was experiencing. For a while, they thought maybe getting pregnant again would help, that they could get back to where they’d been. But Janson had another idea in mind.
“He came to me one day and said, ‘What if you go back to skeleton?’”, she recalled. “I was like, no way. I’m done. Not unless the whole family can come. I’m not doing that again. I’m not being separated from you.”
Janson, willing to do just about anything to get his wife back on track, started crowd-sourcing donations so he and the kids could travel with Noelle during the upcoming competitive season. Before they knew it, Pampers and Babies “R” Us came onboard with sponsorships that have allowed Noelle to get back up to her crazy fast speeds without leaving her family behind.
Noelle’s six-year-old daughter, Lacee, still asks about the baby sister she’d been expecting, suggesting cute outfits she should wear when she arrives, but Noelle takes it all in stride. “Lacee’s not old enough to really understand what happened, but we’ve told her that her baby sister’s in heaven, and that she might come see us soon, or that she might wait to see us later. We definitely want more kids, so who knows, maybe she’ll get that baby sister, after all.”
In the meantime, the Pikus-Pace crew will be there (and we’ll all be watching!) as Noelle zooms past the finish line later this week—hopefully on her way to the podium and a well-earned medal.
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