The last race.
They stood and cheered, clanged cowbells, yelled and screamed. Tears rolled down the cheeks of some while moist eyes were featured in many.
This was the scene at The District Megaplex theatre No. 10 Friday morning in West Jordan as friends, family and general admirers of Olympic silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace gathered to watch the final race of a most remarkable athlete.
As Pikus-Pace maneuvered her sled through the twists and turns of the white and frosty track, reaching speeds of 80 miles per hour, they celebrated hard. Pride ruled.
When her posted time on the big screen appeared, it was the best in that final heat to that point and they watched as Noelle hopped off her sled, raised her hands then jumped over the guardrail and embraced and kissed her husband and family. In West Jordan, her other siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and neighbors shared in the moment the best they could from thousands of miles away.
Then came the Brit, a younger woman who’d defeated Pikus-Pace in recent World Cup races, a fast, powerful starter who gained a precious second on Pikus-Pace immediately while pushing her sled down the starting sprint line. Folks who knew how to read the race clock could see midway in that final run that Noelle’s outstanding posted time was in danger, so was her run at the gold. The skeleton finished as predicted, Pikus-Pace finished second.
Subdued, they recognized and honored the Sochi gold medal effort, but were proud of the silver medalist, a Utah Valley University icon, a girl who grew up in Orem and lives in Eagle Mountain.
Noelle, they say, will always be an ice angel. She is a woman whose neon smile, unconquerable spirit and inspiring attitude have been a shining example. From her brave recovery from a crippling sled accident in Canada to suffering through a miscarriage at 17 weeks into a pregnancy, to having a first-place medal taken away in 2013 because of a piece of tape — on this day, it all came full circle.
Her older brother Rob Pikus was in the Megaplex and before his sister raced into history told the group of about 300 that the Olympian had kept it quiet, but he was going to share with her permission. She had suffered a concussion during a Sochi practice run and had forgotten almost everything about what had happened.
“She’s been in and out of blurriness this week,” said Rob. “But she has been through so much to get there that this wasn’t going to hold her back. She has had a lot of help to get to this point, but something else has helped her.”
The brother said he hadn’t been this excited for anything in his life — watching his little sister compete in the Olympics. “She’s been a role model for me my whole life. She is my youngest sister but she has been a huge part of my life when I’ve been down and I’ve tried to be there for her when she’s had her down moments.”
Owner of Pikus Concrete, Rob’s company just finished pouring for the Payson LDS Temple and joined Mountain Crane Services as chief sponsors in throwing Friday’s party at the Megaplex.
“I couldn’t be more proud of seeing the support she’s received. It’s amazing and I think it’s been the help of her family, those around her and the community that’s rallied around her that’s been the difference.”
Big brother Rob said Noelle has had a solid track record as an athlete who has generated positive headlines around the world. “You see some other athletes where a lot of negative things come out, but she’s always been a genuine person, whose goodness just shines and lifts. I love my sister.”
In days leading up to Friday, Pikus Pace posted a photo on her Facebook page. It featured her and a necklace she was holding out, an emblem of her LDS faith, a Young Women token. She said, “On my way to race and want to give a shout out to the youth! Remember who you are and what you stand for! Love you!”
Just moments before the final Friday, Noelle posted the following: “About to take my final run of my career and am trying to contain my emotions. Janson and I have thoroughly enjoyed this journey. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you all for helping me and my family getting here. Deep breath. One more … let’s have some fun.”
In the moments before that final race, Rob Pikus tried to explain how his sister the Olympian was the real deal, has always been genuine and a force for good — regardless of the medal or finish.
“When we were out in Germany,” remembered Rob, “It was a Sunday and she told everyone she was going to church. Said she, “I gotta go do this. The reason I’m here is because of my faith and everything I believe in. I owe it to the Lord for where I’m at and that I’m even here. It’s all good.”
On this day the gold did not come. But for a woman whose past two Olympics had been seriously impacted by injury and bad fortune, it was a day her fans had waited for for a very long time.
For this mother of two, it really is all good.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.