Olympian Noelle Pikus-Pace and Paralympian Sam Kavanagh spoke on campus Tuesday as part of Deloitte’s 10-stop national campus Roadshow with Team USA.
An Olympian and a Paralympic medalist visited Cal Poly to inspire students with stories of perseverance through their journey to become world-renowned champions in spite of injuries and obstacles.
To a crowd of more than 50 people seated in the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night, Olympian Noelle Pikus-Pace and Paralympic bronze medalist Sam Kavanagh shared their stories to motivate students for success in their careers.
“We always have a choice,” Pikus-Pace said. “Every Olympic and Paralympic athlete has to step out of a comfort zone and go beyond themselves to fulfill their goals.”
Pikus-Pace was an early favorite going into the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, but she lost the chance in the Olympic trials after she was run over by a four-man bobsled team that failed to brake after crossing the finish line. She was thrown 25 feet into the air, but Pikus-Pace said she still tried to stand up.
“I jumped to my feet, and fell back to the ground,” Pikus-Pace said. “I looked down, and my bones were sticking out. In a split second, my choices were taken from me.”
After having to endure several surgeries, she said she made a decision.
“I realized I have a choice — either look back and be devastated and depressed, or figure out where to get where I want to be,” she said.
Pikus-Pace recovered from the accident and went on to win the world championships for skeleton racing in 2006-2007.
After recovering and making the 2010 Olympic U.S. Skeleton Racing team, Pikus-Pace was the top-placing American to compete in the sport and came in fourth, on a sled built by her husband. She was just one-tenth of a second behind third place.
The avalanche that brought a medal
Kavanagh said he first thought about cycling professionally about 12 years ago — the day he graduated at the top of his engineering class at Montana State College. But that was before he lost part of his leg in an avalanche while backcountry skiing in 2005.
“Every hair follicle stood on end,” said Kavanagh. “Eighty tons of snow coming at 80 miles per hour.”
After surgery, an amputation, a prosthetic, love and support from his family and some rehabilitation, Kavanagh took home a bronze medal in a para-cycling team sprint during the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
“If you can’t take risks on yourself in life, how can you expect the world to take risks on you?” he asked. “What makes you a true champion is if you go 100 percent in life in anything and everything you take on.”
The hour-long lecture was on behalf of the official professional-services sponsor for the U.S. Olympic Committee, Deloitte, a financial consulting, tax and audit business. The Deloitte event, “It’s Your Race, Take the Lead,” was also part of the company’s nationwide campus recruiting tour.
Deloitte tax professional and Cal Poly alumna Megan Delehanty said Deloitte considers the campus as one of its top recruiter schools.
“We are excited about bringing world-renowned athletes who demonstrate community, teamwork, commitment and leadership — values which are consistent with the Deloitte brand,” Delehanty said.