NOELLE PIKUS PACE: A JOURNEY TO OLYMPIC GLORY

Stepping into the 2024 Simplot Games arena is none other than the Olympic skeleton slider and former Simplot Games competitor Noelle Pikus Pace. Noelle will be this year’s guest Olympian and speaker at the annual Breakfast With Fosbury and Friends community event.

Since beginning her athletic journey in 2001, Noelle has not only made history but has also overcome many challenges. In 2005, she was the world’s top-ranked skeleton racer when a runaway bobsled descended the track and collided with Noelle, resulting in a compound leg fracture that cost her an Olympic spot in the 2006 Games. Noelle persevered through the challenges and made a comeback the following year and became the first American woman to win the World Championships title—and did it by the largest margin in the history of the sport.

Noelle fulfilled her dream of reaching the Olympics when she competed in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, where she subsequently announced her retirement. In 2012 Noelle decided to return yet again, this time with her sights set on reaching the Olympic podium. Not only had Noelle returned, but for the next two years she reached the podium in every world cup race she competed in.

All of Noelle’s dedication, hope, and perseverance led her to win the silver medal in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Noelle was awarded the US Olympics’ iconic “Moment of the Games” when she jumped into the stands to embrace her husband Janson and their two children after winning the silver medal.

Noelle’s story is one of resilience and the right state of mind. We posed a series of questions to Noelle to see what advice she has to offer young athletes coming to compete in the 2024 Simplot Games.

How do you feel about returning to Simplot Games?
“I am so excited. I have not been back since I was in high school competing there. So, I’m really looking forward to it. And the talent is just incredible. It has just risen year after year. And what a great opportunity for these kids to be able to come together and to compete at their best level.”

What impact do you hope to have on the athletes competing in the Games?
“I hope I can inspire them to extend and to know that anything is possible. I was an athlete there in high school, and I honestly did not have an Olympic dream until a few years after that point. But to know that anything truly is possible, and through hard work, through keeping their bodies healthy, not just on the track, not just when they are jumping or not just when they are running, but in life. That they can find success as they implement the skills that they are learning and taking with them.”

This year’s theme for Simplot Games is never look back. What advice do you have for young athletes who face a major setback?
“Never look back. Constantly look forward to a great future. Obviously, it is easier said than done. A lot of times when we tend to look back, we tend to hold ourselves captive and put ourselves in kind of a box and limit ourselves and our abilities. But as we look forward, we are able to see all the possibilities before us and the opportunities. Looking forward allows us to grow, to reach heights that we’ve never attained before. Reach marks and times that we’ve never been able to meet. Continue looking forward. Continue pushing forward. Continue moving forward.”

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned throughout your career?
The most valuable lesson that I have learned throughout my career is that it is going to be hard, that the road will be rough at times, and to just expect setbacks, but to never give up, to never give in, and to continue moving forward. I have had many injuries along my career path that were definitely unexpected. And going into it with the mindset that sometimes things go wrong, sometimes things do not go as expected, it allowed me to see it as an opportunity to grow and to learn, rather than an opportunity to stay still. And even though it is very hard to do, instead of seeing an injury or a setback or a missed mark as a failure, instead see it as an opportunity to learn from it and to grow from it. I tell my kids a quote quite often. It says, “You win some, you learn some.” You only lose some if you never learn. And I know it is kind of a tongue twister, but if we can take those failures or those setbacks and see them as opportunities to grow, then the possibilities truly are limitless in front of us.”

What strategies do you use to handle stress or anxiety?
“Well, it took me years to figure this one out, but the competition is never about the competition. It is only about yourself. And something that I had to do or something that I learned to do was to keep a journal with me everywhere I went. So, every night that I would go to bed, I would write down three goals for myself, three things that I wanted to focus on, and that helped me. So that when I wake up in the morning, I knew the three goals that I wanted to reach. Maybe it was my midway strategy, maybe it was how I wanted to attack the bar in high jump, but I would write down three goals for myself, very specific goals. It was only focusing on my right arm and how I wanted to drive it to my ear, to my hip, or something like that. And then after I would get done with my competition, I would write down how those goals went. Was I able to obtain those goals? Did I need to continue working on them? And something that this strategy did was take my focus away from the other athletes and what they were doing and focus on what I needed to be doing to improve my results. I found massive improvements as I started to do this each and every day. Each and every day. That is how we become great. Right? That is the difference between good and great. It is just improving 1% and strengthening our mindset. Challenging yourself to set those goals each and every day, so you know what you’re doing.”

What is a way that you overcome self-doubt?
“First thing is to recognize what fear you have inside of you. I like to take time to just reflect and to take time to write down every fear that I have on a piece of paper. Anything that is stressing me, anything that is causing anxiety. Then I take that same piece of paper after I have written down this big, long, massive list, because I have many fears and doubts and anxieties and stresses, as we all do. But then I like to take it one at a time and to try and find a solution. Maybe that solution is something actionable that I can do. Maybe that solution is in someone else and I need to go find another athlete and start asking questions. Maybe that solution is just a lack of preparation, and I need to find a way to be more prepared. But you will find that the majority of fears and anxieties can be tackled with solutions. As we start to tackle those fears and those stresses, those anxieties, it is incredible how those doubts begin to leave our minds, and that confidence is right there with us as we get up to that starting line.”

Is there any piece of advice that a mentor gave to you early on in your career that’s really stuck with you throughout it all?
“One of my mentors told us to be process-oriented and results-driven. What this means is that all of us want to reach the podium to be in first place, or second or third to have a medal draped around our neck, but the whole process is the point of getting there right. We have to focus on things like our foot placement, or our breathing every day. We just try to be 1% better every day and try to be better than we were yesterday. If I am doing everything right and putting everything into place, it will ultimately lead to a podium, or at least we hope so, right?”

What kind of values are you hoping to see in the next generation of athletes coming to compete in the Simplot Games? What values do you want to see them take on and use throughout their career?
“I hope that they know who they are and what they stand for. I hope that I see compassion and gratitude. I hope that I continue to see that these are things that we are seeing now, obviously, but continue to see that they inspire the next generation to be even better than they are, just as this generation is doing for us. They continue to inspire the generations before and after them, and continue to be great athletes.”

Is there anything else you want to say to the athletes coming to compete in the Games?
“I just want to tell them good luck and I will be watching and cheering them on. I am so excited to see what their future holds for them.”