KUSA - Noelle Pikus-Pace made her skeleton comeback a family affair.
Knowing the competitive embers still burned but also knowing she didn't want to spend winters in Europe on the World Cup circuit away from her husband, Janson, and two kids, Lacee and Traycen, Pikus-Pace came out of retirement two years and traveled with her family.
"I thought she could compete at her best potential with the family there," Janson said. "It's a sacrifice, and it's really hard to do it alone and leave everyone and be by herself."
For the past two World Cup seasons, they traveled from mountain winter wonderland to mountain winter wonderland in hopes that Friday ended with medal at the Sochi Olympics.
But the road to silver in the women's skeleton was more complicated than anyone knew.
Pikus-Pace took two official training runs to qualify for the event, then skipped the final four sessions to rest. U.S. skeleton officials blamed her missed training runs on a bad back, which bothered Pikus-Pace this season. But that was not a problem last week. She had concussion-like symptoms sustained when she hit her head during an unofficial training run. She dealt with vision problems and vertigo, she said.
She said she was so tiredthe day before her eventthat she fell asleep after the first run and was awakened by a volunteer minutes before her second run.
U.S. skeleton coach Tuffy Latour said he was informed that Pikus-Pace was cleared by medical staff to race.
"My back has bothered me, but my federation was just trying to protect me from media. To protect me for this race," Pikus-Pace said. "I just can't bear to talk about my back anymore since that was not my reason for not sliding."
When asked about her back after the second heat, Pikus-Pace cited herniated disks but answered hesitantly as she looked at a skeleton public relations official.
"But honestly, I felt my best, and I felt very good today," she said after the race.
With her husband and two children in attendance and riding a sled designed and built by Janson, Pikus-Pace was at her best at the Sanki Sliding Center.
"With my family here, and the love and support, it's beyond words," said Pikus-Pace. Life's emotions emptied. She thought it about what she went through and what it took to win a medal. The two children she had while trying to make Olympic teams. The bobsled that hit her as she stood on the end of track in Calgary in 2005, fracturing her right leg and ending her 2006 Torino Olympics dream. Missing bronze by one-tenth of a second at the 2010 Vancouver Games. A miscarriage.
"Many tears were shed," Pikus-Pace said. "If I hadn't gone through every single one of those things, I would not be here today, and this is right where I want to be."