So what does a world-class athlete do a day or two after winning a medal on sport’s biggest global stage?
The answer’s easy if you’re American skeleton slider (and Olympic silver medalist) Noelle Pikus-Pace: You gather up the family and go to church.
And that’s exactly what she did.
On Feb. 14, Sister Pikus-Pace finished with the second fastest time in a thrilling Olympic women’s skeleton sled race. She stood smiling on the medal podium and then patiently answered question after question from reporters from around the world.
Two days later, she unassumingly took a seat in a rented hall in Sochi, Russia, and worshipped in a sparsely attended sacrament meeting alongside her husband, Janson Pace, and their two young children Lacee Lynne and Traycen.
The two settings could hardly have been more different — but in each, Sister Pikus-Pace looked entirely at home.
Following her race, the 31-year-old member of the Kiowa Valley 1st Ward, Eagle Mountain Utah East Stake, quickly became one of the feel-good stories of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
First, sports fans were drawn to her story of athletic toughness and resiliency. She had already established herself as one of the world’s top skeleton sliders in 2006 when her leg was shattered after being struck by a bobsled in a freak accident.
She would return to the track following an arduous period of rehabilitation, competing on a custom sled built by her husband. Her second-act sliding success solidified her as a medal favorite for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. But she fell just short of the podium, finishing in fourth place.
Her medal-winning run in Sochi validated her grit and decision to continue competing despite the setbacks.
But the Noelle Pikus-Pace storyline soon moved beyond race times and medal ceremonies.
Reporters and viewers alike were charmed by her obvious adoration for her husband and two children. After finishing her final race she climbed into the spectator section to tearfully embrace her young family. Her Olympic joy was obviously something she was eager to share with supportive loved ones.
Others were drawn to her religious devotion. A Phoenix, Ariz., television reporter, for example, spoke of Sister Pikus-Pace’s decision to wear her Young Womanhood Recognition Medallion and the Young Women logo (torch) pendant during the Olympic competition. Sharp-eyed viewers even spotted her wearing the familiar Young Women torch medallion during the medal ceremony.
(Sister Pikus-Pace has a soft spot for the youth of the Church. She’s served as a stake Young Women president.)
After attending Sabbath services in Sochi, she spoke with Deseret News’ Amy Donaldson and others about her deep faith.
“We know that the work is hastening and that we’ve been given talents from Heavenly Father to go and share with the world,” she said.
When asked about her spiritual preparation for the Games, Sister Pikus-Pace recalled the blessings her family had received through prayer, fasting, priesthood blessing and temple attendance.
“Heavenly Father is here,” she said. “He knows our needs and He will never leave our side.”
She encouraged the young women and young men of the Church to stand up for their values and beliefs before sharing one of her favorite scripture passages from Alma 37:37:
“Counsel with the Lord in all they doings, and he will direct thee for good.”