The world watched as Noelle Pikus-Pace of the Kiowa Valley 1st Ward, Eagle Mountain Utah East Stake, won a silver medal in the skeleton during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 14.
Yet, like all Olympic dreams, the road to the medal podium for this Latter-day Saint athlete was long and hard.
She was the reigning World Cup skeleton racer for the 2004-2005 season — and a favorite to win the gold at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy — when a four-man bobsleigh lost its brakes and crushed her leg during a training accident in Calgary.
She had a rod put in her leg and pressed forward; she finished fourth place (just off the medal stand) in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
In the summer of 2012, she decided that she would give it one last try to earn an Olympic Medal, but only if her family – which included her husband and two children — could all travel together. They raised the money and she continued to fight for her dream (www.noellepikuspace.com).
Her story of tenacity is one that can inspire all of us.
“Perseverance is a positive, active characteristic,” said Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917-2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during his October 1987 general conference address. “It is not idly, passively waiting and hoping for some good thing to happen. It gives us hope by helping us realize that the righteous suffer no failure except in giving up and no longer trying.”
Elder Wirthlin said the need to persevere is expressed in the following lines:
“Genius is only the power of making continuous efforts. The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it; so fine that we are often on the line and do not know it. How many a man has thrown up his hands at a time when a little more effort, a little more patience would have achieved success? A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed a hopeless failure may turn into a glorious success. … There is no defeat except within, no really insurmountable barrier save one’s own inherent weakness of purpose” (author unknown, Second Encyclopedia, ed. Jacob M. Brand, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1957, p. 152).
We have been counseled to never give in, regardless of temptations, frustrations, disappointments or discouragements.
We can look not only to present-day Olympic heroes for examples of perseverance, but also to history.
Winston Churchill — known for his determination as the leader of Great Britain during World War II — returned in his later years to the school where he had studied as a boy. Before he arrived the headmaster told the students, “The greatest Britisher of our time is going to come to this school, and I want every one of you to be here with your notebooks. I want you to write down what he says, because his speech will be something for you to remember all your lives.’’ The elderly statesman was introduced and delivered the speech that he once gave in Parliament: “Never, never, never give up’’ (“Never give up,” quoted in Church News, Nov. 15, 1997).
There are also numerous scriptural accounts of perseverance. Noah persevered in building an ark when those around him laughed; Nephi returned to get the plates when his brothers refused; Job endured unthinkable suffering, but never gave up; and Joseph Smith brought forth the Restoration despite unimaginable persecution.
While serving as second counselor in the First Presidency, President James E. Faust (1920-2007) said during the April 2005 general conference that perseverance is demonstrated by those who keep going when the going gets tough, who don’t give up even when others say, “It can’t be done.”
“Success is usually earned by persevering and not becoming discouraged when we encounter challenges…. The Lord has blessed the Church and its members in remarkable ways because of their faithfulness and perseverance,” President Faust said.
President Thomas S. Monson said in our journey on earth, we discover that life is made up of challenges — they just differ from one person to another. “We are success-oriented, striving to become ‘wonder women’ and ‘super men.’ Any hint of failure can cause panic, even despair. Who among us cannot remember moments of failure?” he said during the April 1987 general conference.
“Our responsibility is to rise from mediocrity to competence, from failure to achievement. Our task is to become our best selves. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need be final.”
While serving as acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Howard W. Hunter (1907-1995) delivered a BYU devotional address in 1987, in which he said there is no such thing as instant greatness. An excerpt of his address, which was published in the February 1988 issue of the Ensign, states: “The achievement of true greatness is a long-term process. It may involve occasional setbacks. The end result may not always be clearly visible, but it seems that it always requires regular, consistent, small, and sometimes ordinary and mundane steps over a long period of time.”
After winning her Olympic medal, Noelle Pikus-Pace told a Deseret News reporter that life is inevitably difficult and disappointing, but that we can all endure – with the Lord’s help – and be happy.
“My faith in what we’re doing and our purpose isn’t surrounded by a color of a medal,” she said. “That isn’t what it’s about. The journey that we’ve had, the people we’ve been able to share this experience with, and the smiles and lives we’ve been able to touch made it all worth it.”