Uhlaender happy as sliding season nears

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Associated Press

Posted on September 20, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 20 at 2:03 PM

Former world skeleton champion Katie Uhlaender decided to compete in the U.S. weightlifting championships this summer a few days before the event. Winning wasn't on her mind. She just wanted to enjoy the experience.

She finished second in her division.

Without much in the way of big-time training for the event, Uhlaender nearly won a national title in her "other" sport, one where she's dabbled part-time to stay busy between sliding seasons. Here's the takeaway from all that: When she's healthy and happy, Uhlaender figures she can do just about anything.

These days, she's healthy and happy.

Those are good signs for Uhlaender as a season that culminates at the Sochi Olympics rapidly approaches.

"This is the first time I've been 100 percent healthy," Uhlaender said. "This is the first offseason that I've had where I've had no pain and I am just so elated and grateful. I don't want to take anything for granted. The people in my life, my support group, I just want to give back as much as I can because I know good times don't last forever."

She knows those last few words all too well. Her last Olympic season was a blur, and not in the way that someone who throws herself headfirst down an icy chute on a little sled at speeds topping 80 mph would prefer, either.

Asked at one point by a team official to assess her own state of mind ahead of the 2010 Vancouver Games, Uhlaender described herself as "mentally unstable." Her father, former major league baseball player Ted Uhlaender, died a year before those Olympics.

Her left kneecap was balky at best after breaking it twice in the span of a few months before the Olympics. Mentally and physically, she was fractured.

Time healed things. She won a 2012 world championship on her home track in Lake Placid, N.Y., and had a strong season on the World Cup circuit a year ago. She and fellow American Noelle Pikus-Pace might be the best duo of sliders that any national team will have this season.

"After my father passed away, my entire life changed," Uhlaender said. "It took me two or three years to recover from losing the person that was the foundation in my life. I had to relearn how to deal with anything. I wasn't in a place to help anybody. I was still trying to help myself."

Her season will start soon. The track that the U.S. bobsled, skeleton and luge teams use in Lake Placid is scheduled to open Oct. 1, but the first official act for the skeleton team this season comes Saturday at their push championships.

Uhlaender is not expected to compete, and her absence won't in any way impede her plans for the season.

"This is shaping up to be another great event for USA Skeleton," U.S. skeleton coach Tuffy Latour said. "This year's push championships will include some very strong veteran sliders, recruits from the last three seasons and our newest additions. The competition should be outstanding as we gear up for national team trials."

If nothing else, the showing at weightlifting nationals — Uhlaender has often spoken of trying to become an Olympian in that sport, too — suggests that she'll be ready for big things on the ice this year.

Finishing second in the 138-pound weight class wasn't even the highlight for Uhlaender. She enjoyed cheering for other athletes, offering support in some cases, advice in others. More than anything else, she simply enjoyed being around athletes and getting the rush that comes from competing.

"That is fun for me, to feel that feeling of, 'All right, let's see what I've got,'" Uhlaender said. "That's fun. And I think it's one of the best things I could have done to prepare for the skeleton season."

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