Katie Uhlaender of the United States makes a run during the Women's Skeleton heats on Day 6 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Sliding Center Sanki on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
When US skeleton rider Katie Uhlaender speeds headlong down the track this week in Sochi, it may appear as though she’s doing it alone. But as it turns out, the 2012 world champion brings her dad along for the ride each and every time.
Uhlaender’s father, Ted — a former Major League outfielder with the Twins, Indians and Reds — died of a heart attack in February 2009, one year before her disappointing 11th-place finish at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
After her final run at those games, Uhlaender broke down on the track, but after that vulnerable moment, she was finally able to begin healing, with the help of gold-medal skier and FOX analyst Picabo Street.
"She started making me think about things my dad did because he never gave me straight-up advice," Uhlaender told USA Today. "He would always make me think about it and figure it out. She helped me rediscover that I have the tools to live life on my own.
"In fact, maybe create my own destiny and something more awesome. I can do it on my own now. I didn’t really need him to be there. But I reference him all the time in my thoughts."
She also keeps her dad close to her heart, wearing a small silver baseball locket containing some of his ashes when she takes to the course. In addition, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Uhlaender sometimes carries one of her father’s baseball cards or his 1972 National League championship ring with her on the track.
"Before he died, I would call him every day of a race, even if for just five minutes. He gave me this undeniable sense of purpose," Uhlaender told the Plain-Dealer. "That’s what gave me the drive of a warrior.
"When I lost him, I had no purpose, and a ton of passion and nowhere to put it. To get it back was such a long road. I was like an adolescent teenager stomping my feet, saying, ‘I want my dad!’ I didn’t want to do it by myself.
"Now I’ve grown up and see I have the tools he left behind for me."
After her first two heats of competition Thursday, Uhlaender found herself in fourth place, two spots behind teammate Noelle Pikus-Pace, .14 seconds out of third and .69 seconds behind gold medal frontrunner Elizabeth Yarnold of Great Britain.
Friday’s final two heats will determine whether Uhlaender is able to fulfill her Olympic dream after a long road back following the loss of her dad, and if she does, her father’s memory will certainly accompany her to the medal stand.
"He didn’t hand you anything. He wanted you to earn it," Uhlaender told reporters at the Olympic Summit in October. "That’s what my father was about. … I can’t guarantee I’m going to win. But I can guarantee I’m gonna make it real hard to lose."