SALT LAKE CITY — When Noelle Pikus-Pace pulled the Olympic silver medal out of her pocket, the businessmen and businesswomen crowded into the luncheon at Little America burst into applause.
“This was pretty awesome to say the least,” Pikus-Pace told members of the Utah Technology Council at their annual members meeting Tuesday. “Not just getting (the medal), but the whole journey.”
Pikus-Pace described a decade of hard work and sacrifice that helped her earn an Olympic medal. The main strategy, she said, was learning that whatever she focused on would become her destination — both in life and on an icy skeleton track.
“Where you look is where you go,” she said after recounting a story of how she glanced up at a wood railing while competing in Germany and worried that she’d collide with it. “And I was looking right at that wood, and although I did not want to hit it, I was looking there and I said, ‘Don’t hit the wood! Don’t hit the wood!' And I hit the wood.”
Focusing one’s energy on the wrong thing can lead to an unnecessary detour.
“Where are you looking?” she asked. “Where are your sights set? Do you set goals for yourself? Do you set daily goals? Do you set monthly goals? Do you know where you want to be a year from now or five years from now? Where you look is where you go. It’s those small little decisions that we make every single day that make us who we are and who we will become.”
The mother of two said she utilized a simple strategy to help her maximize every day of training. Each day, before training or competing, she set three simple goals.
“I like to follow the S.M.A.R.T. goals,” she said picking up a well-worn journal and thumbing through it. “You guys have been to school, right? That’s specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based goals. This is truly what I attribute to much of my success.”
She shared specific stories from her journey peppered with humor and punctuated with life lessons. She described how nervous she was before the 2010 Olympics and how distracted she was by all of the media attention and pressure to win after a horrific broken leg ended her 2006 quest for an Olympic medal.
Accompanied by her husband, Janson, and her two children, she talked about seeking advice from a five-time Olympian and coach. He asked her if she could walk the length of the room on a board 2 feet wide. Then he asked if she could jog it, and finally if she could sprint across it. She said yes to all three.
“What if I take that exact same board and I put it 1,000 feet in the air?” he asked. “Let’s say I take that board and spread it across the Grand Canyon.”
She immediately answered negatively.
“Because I’d be afraid to fall,” she said. “He said, 'Exactly. You’re worried about the distractions around you, worried about all the other things around you that you can’t control, when the only thing you should be focused on is place one foot in front of the other. It’s no different whether it’s on the ground or 1,000 feet in the air.'"
“It's no different competing in the Olympics than it is competing in any other competition, as long as you do what you know how to do, and have faith as you move forward one foot in front of the other," Pikus-Pace said. "You can see how that would apply to life.”
She recounted her fourth-place finish in Vancouver and said that, sometimes, regardless of the goal, your best has to be good enough.
“At that time, I realized that we sometimes have to give ourselves a pat on the back, even when things didn’t turn out the way we hoped they would,” she said. “Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but as long as you’re giving your best, you have to allow yourself to say, ‘Hey, I did all that I could.’”
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