Injured Pikus-Pace Pushing

Injured Pikus-Pace Pushing

USA TODAY

Injured Pikus-Pace Pushing
By Vicki Michaelis

Noelle Pikus-Pace’s U.S. skeleton teammates will wake up early Wednesday in Calgary to the first race of the Olympic season.

Pikus-Pace will wake up at home in Orem, Utah, to another day in her race against time.

The reigning overall World Cup champion, Pikus-Pace was a gold medal favorite for the 2006 Winter Olympics until a bobsled struck her Oct. 19 during a practice session on the Calgary track, breaking her lower right leg so severely doctors inserted a titanium rod.

Doctors told her coaches that recovery from such an injury takes, on average, six months, which would have her missing the Feb. 10-26 Olympics in Torino, Italy. “We all said, ’No, no, no, this is not your average person,’ ” U.S. skeleton head coach Tim Nardiello says.

Pikus-Pace, who started walking Monday without crutches, aims to take her first trip down a track Thanksgiving week in Park City, Utah, and to compete in a World Cup in Igls, Austria, on Dec. 8, her 23rd birthday.

“That’s what I’m going for,” she says. “It keeps me going, just to see that there is something to reach.”

Last season Pikus-Pace juggled a 17-credit course load at Utah Valley State while winning three of her first four World Cup races. She became the first U.S. woman to win the World Cup points title and won silver at the skeleton world championships. In the spring, she competed for the school’s track and field team before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in community health and physical education.

Right now, she’s channeling all of that multitasking energy into one goal: Getting back to the World Cup tour in time to earn a spot on the Olympic team.

She also wants to help the team get a second Olympic slot. The U.S. women need to rank, as a team, among the top three in World Cup standings by mid-January.

Of the women on the U.S. team, Katie Uhlaender finished with the highest world ranking behind Pikus-Pace last season, at sixth. Katie Koczynski was 18th, and 2002 Olympic gold medalist Tristan Gale was 25th. Lyndsie

Peterson didn’t race on the World Cup.

U.S. skeleton coaches must submit athletes’ names to the U.S. Olympic Committee by Jan. 16. If Pikus-Pace doesn’t recover in time to race either of the two World Cups in December — the second is Dec. 14 in Sigulda, Latvia — she will have one other chance, the Jan. 13 World Cup in Konigssee, Germany, before selections are made.

Coaches talked to the U.S. women after they were named last month to the World Cup team, and a majority agreed to participate in a race-off with Pikus-Pace in Konigssee if necessary, Nardiello says.

Pikus-Pace is doing all she can to make it unnecessary.

“We’re trying to push the envelope but safely push it,” says Brent Butler, a physical therapist at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. “I feel very good about things right now.”

Every day, Pikus-Pace spends several hours doing various exercises, including stationary bike workouts, onelegged squats, leg extensions with weights and walking on an underwater treadmill. Afterward, she goes to Brigham Young to sprint under water while wearing a flotation device. She says she is hoping to start jogging in the next two weeks.

“In my mind, I’m ready to go compete,” Pikus-Pace says. “I’m in that mode to go out and do what I’ve been preparing for all summer, but my body just won’t let me. So I have to take that in consideration too, and I have to listen to it. It has been hard holding myself back, but I know it’s going to be better for me in the long run.”

Contributing: Wire reports

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