I’m not a farmer, but… Olympian Shares her Love of Food and Family
Utah Farm and Fork caught up with Noelle Pikus-Pace, silver-medalist in Skeleton from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and local Utahn to talk about her time growing up in Utah, her Olympic adventures, and her connections to food. Pikus-Pace was born in Provo, and grew up in Orem, Utah, attending Mountain View High School and Utah Valley University. Pikus-Pace participated in the Winter Olympic Games in 2006 (Torino, Italy), 2010 (Vancouver, Canada), and 2014 (Sochi, Russia). After a devastating leg injury caused by a runaway bobsled during preliminary runs in Vancouver, Pikus-Pace retired from Skeleton. She later picked the sport back up and earned a Silver Medal at the 2014 Olympics.
Q. What’s your hometown? Where have you lived during your life?
A. My husband, Janson, and I both grew up in Orem, Utah. Throughout our marriage, we have lived in Orem, Eagle Mountain, Alajuela, Costa Rica, Chanhassen, Minnesota and I currently live in Saratoga Springs, Utah.
Q. Do you have siblings? Where do you fit in the birth order?
A. I am the youngest of eight children and totally believe that if in fact I was spoiled in my later years, it was just the reward for actually surviving the younger years.
Q. Did you grow up on a farm/ranch? Or if not, did your family have a garden when you were growing up? What experiences with growing food did you and your family have?
A. Although I didn’t grow up on a farm or ranch, our fruit trees and garden were always something I was proud of. I would anxiously watch day-by-day as things would grow and anticipate when we could reap the rewards of our work. It’s very fulfilling to be self-reliant. We had plum, peach, apricot, apple and cherry trees growing up. My favorite fruits to pick were the green apples and the cherries because the tree branches were fun to climb. One of my favorite memories as a child was building a make-shift little fort in our huge cherry tree. Near the end of each summer, I would happily volunteer to climb that big tree and pick cherries (eating handfuls as I picked). I loved making “inventions” that could help me to be more efficient at picking and gathering the fruit.
Q. Did you have favorite things to do as a child? Or things you hated doing?
A. I loved adventure wherever I could find it. I remember going into 7th grade with an assignment to read Tom Sawyer. To add [excitement] to this assignment, my best friend, Oliva Burr and I decided it would be best to experience a little bit of Tom Sawyer’s life as we read about him, so we built a raft (out of 50 2-liter soda bottles) and floated down the Provo River as we read the book. We floated that river more times than I can count, but the days of reading about Tom and Huck while floating the river were definitely a highlight of my childhood.
Q. Were you the perfect child? Or perhaps a little less than perfect?
A. Ha, ha, ha, now that’s a funny question. Definitely less than perfect.
Q. What type of student were you while growing up?
A. I was a good student. I know that my grades were in-part a reflection of my competitive nature. My parents always instilled in us a great desire to learn and to give our best effort in every aspect of our lives. They always emphasized the need to obtain as much education as possible. They also emphasized that much learning isn’t necessarily in a classroom either. They taught us in many ways about a variety of life-skills and how to become self-reliant.
A. First and foremost, I am a mom of four great kids. I am also an author, high performance consultant and keynote speaker. I was introduced to skeleton (the crazy winter Olympic sport where you run and jump, head-first, onto a little sled and slide down the side of a mountain at speeds above 90 miles/hour) when I was in high school. I ran track at Mountain View and one of my coaches, Steve Revelli, asked if I wanted to try bobsledding. It was one of those right time, right place moments in life and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.
Q. Did you go to college?
A. I graduated from Utah Valley University with a bachelor’s degree in Community Health. Go Wolverines! I competed in track & field while I was there and then went on to earn an online master’s degree in Business Administration from Colorado Technical University.
Q. Describe a typical workday
A. My schedule changes from day to day and is fairly flexible, which is a huge blessing as a mom. Sometimes I need time on my computer to write, create, plan and organize while other times I am in an auditorium in front of elementary school children, on a large televised stage in front of corporate executives, or in a room with a sales team helping them to align their goals. It is very rewarding to see excitement and growth in those I work with.
Q. What are your favorite foods?
A. Vegetable – Can homemade salsa count as one vegetable? :) I’d definitely have to add sweet corn on the cob. Fruit – White peaches, apples, and of course, cherries. Meat – Chicken, beef and pork.
Q. How would you classify yourself from an eating standpoint? Are you an omnivore (someone who eats any and everything), an herbivore (someone who just eats plants), someone on a paleo diet (just meats and dairy products), or something else?
A. I am definitely an omnivore.
Q. Are you someone who eats because they have to or are you someone who eats because you love to eat?
A. It depends on the day. If I have a lazy or relaxing day or evening, I am definitely eating because I love to eat. If my day is packed with things to do and places to go, I become someone who eats because I really need the energy but don’t necessarily have the time to eat.
Q. Is there a restaurant in Utah you like to go to?
A. I love Ernie’s Sports Deli in Orem, Yummy’s Korean BBQ in Orem, and CoreLife Eatery.
Q. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?
A. Warm pureed salmon paste for Thanksgiving dinner during a World Cup event in Austria. I felt obligated to eat it and still have regrets for doing so.
Q. What’s the best meal you’ve ever had and why?
A. The “Pikus Christmas Casserole”. It’s my mom’s sausage, egg and cheese casserole. It is absolutely delicious, and I have never found anyone that makes it the way that she does. I have carried over the tradition that we had growing up to make this casserole every Christmas and Easter morning. Although it isn’t quite as good when I make it (there’s something about a mother’s love that gives it that special ingredient), my kids now love it and the memories continue to grow.
Q. What was the favorite meal/food you ate growing up? Or what food memories to you have from your childhood?
A. My most memorable memories surrounding food all took place around our kitchen table. My parents placed a very high priority on having dinner together as a family every night. Although my mom and dad both worked full-time jobs, my mom was consistent in her effort to make a variety of meals. My parents left no room and no question in our home for picky eaters. We would have to sit at the table until every bite on our plate was consumed or else, we would have to eat it for breakfast. As a seven-year-old not wanting to swallow my clam chowder, it was a little traumatic. :) Now looking back, and after having the many cultural experiences that I have had in my life, I am extremely grateful for the way that I was raised to appreciate a wide variety of foods. Another memory is that my dad rarely cooked…but when he did, it was epic. My dad always prided himself with making two meals very well: Very hearty, healthy and meaty spaghetti sauce….and the biggest buckwheat pancakes you have ever seen in your entire life. The buckwheat pancakes would soak up the syrup so quickly that as kids, I remember times we would literally have to take a bite of the buckwheat pancake and then immediately pour the syrup in our mouth to compensate.
Q. Describe to me your favorite kind of meal, something you eat on a fairly regular basis.
A. One of my favorite meals is fajitas. I love that it has vegetables, protein and carbohydrates all in the palm of your hand.
Q. Do you like to cook? What is your go-to meal/dish/recipe?
A. I like to eat a variety of foods and try to find balance in what we eat, but sometimes with kids, life gets crazy and there isn’t much time for cooking or meal preparation. One thing I love to do is buy a larger quantity of ground beef, cook it all at once, let it cool and then put it into baggies and freeze it. This makes meals when there isn’t much time to prepare, quick and easy.
Q. Do you have a favorite recipe?
A. Butternut squash soup, cheesy cauliflower casserole, stuffed green peppers, fresh homemade bread, meatloaf, and my moms Christmas casserole.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A. A huge thank you to each of you for working so hard and producing such high-quality foods for Utah!
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