Trading a helmet for hats

The following is an excerpt from an article posted at TeamUSA.org:

It all started with a casual conversation between Noelle Pikus-Pace and her sister-in-law in 2008. Pikus-Pace, a world champion skeleton racer, had recently given birth to her first child, a daughter, Lacee.

The women were discussing how cute bald babies were, but wouldn’t it be even more precious if there were a kind of hat that made them appear to have hair?

The conversation spurred something in Pikus-Pace’s imagination: Why not knit colorful hats, with a fuzzy, mock-hair look on top, for babies?

The idea took off, spreading by word of mouth into a part-time business. Pikus-Pace, and her sister Amanda Yates, personally worked on every hat from design to creation.

The business has greatly expanded over 18 months, turning into a full-time enterprise designing and manufacturing an array of hats, scarves and beanies for every member of the family.

Some designs carry Pikus-Pace’s trademark “fuzzy hair” look, others are more traditional, and yet others are more modern and chic.

“I had no expectation that this was going to happen,” Pikus-Pace said. “Sometimes, you ask yourself, ‘Is this really happening?’ People are really responding to the designs, and that’s something you hope for, but can’t expect.”

Pikus-Pace retired from skeleton after the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, fully dedicating herself to her company, called SnowFire. She said orders are pouring in from boutiques around Utah and on her Web site (www.snowfirehats.com) and added that she’s getting ready to receive a shipment of 17,000 hats to satisfy demand.

SnowFire recently became an NCAA licensee, meaning that Pikus-Pace can create hats with the color scheme and logos of popular university sports teams. She hopes to add pro sports teams soon too.

The company is a family affair, with Pikus-Pace’s husband, Janson, Amanda, and Amanda’s husband, Taylor Yates, all sharing important operational roles.

It’s a far cry from a year ago, when Pikus-Pace was trying to juggle training for the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games and was working on the hats by hand with Amanda.

Today, the production is outsourced to keep up with demand, and Pikus-Pace is at peace with being retired from skeleton. She’s happy to be a stay-at-home mom for Lacee and a businesswoman running a growing operation.

“I knew the end was going to come. You can’t keep being an athlete forever,” Pikus-Pace, 27, said. “I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to have my own business. I have a (Master of) Business Administration (degree), so I love to do things in business. It is important to have something ready to go when you retire, and that’s what I did with SnowFire. I planted the seeds of this when I was still competing.

“It’s amazing to see the similarities in competing at the Olympics and running a business. I do not feel any void from not competing, because that spirit has been transferred over to a new challenge.”

Knowing the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver would be the end brought a degree of peace. She made a special effort to take part in everything from the Opening Ceremony to the Closing Ceremony.

Click here to read the entire article.

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