Olympic skeleton athlete with Austin roots guns for spot on podium

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Early Thursday morning (Austin time) a winter Olympian with several family members living in the Austin area began her quest for an Olympic medal.

Katie Uhlaender has had to overcome the death of her father, knee surgery and a recent concussion to become one of only two U.S. women to compete in the skeleton.

Katie described the sport in a video provided by Liberty Mutual Insurance:

“Your face is literally inches off the ice. I hit speeds up to 90 mph. You start going with gravity and you want more. And then it becomes relaxed chaos. And that is why I love skeleton.”

Katie grew up playing sports. Her father was Ted Uhlaender, a major league baseball player. Ted told Katie growing up that the best way to get better in sports is to observe others.

Her brother Hank is a professional bodybuilder and co-owner of Oak Hill Fitness on Bee Caves Road. He says he has learned a lot from his sister.

“She’s 29 now, she’s in peak condition,” he said. “She lifts more weights than I do now.”

In 2008 Ted Uhlaender was diagnosed with cancer.

“He didn’t want his situation to affect my dreams,” Katie said. “The last world cup race, Feb. 12, 2009, I talked to him that morning. When I finished the race he had passed away. My entire world started to fall apart.”

After a poor performance in the Vancouver Olympics four years ago, Katie reached out to gold medalist Picabo Street for advice on how to channel her emotions and energy.

“There was just a lot going on for her and so I just helped her manage really quickly in the time frame we had to get out of Vancouver with her head held high,” Street said of Katie.

Hank believes all the advice and coaching is working.

“I think (our father) will be smiling down on Katie when she competes this year. I think she knows that. And from the videos she’s posted on Facebook, it looks like she’s having fun,” he said.

Katie believes she is ready for the challenge ahead in Sochi.

“I accepted the fact that my father was gone, and when that happened, I felt closer to him,” she said. “And the moment I realized I had overcome it was when I won World Championships in 2012 at Lake Placid. Now is the time for me to follow that through. Be the daughter he raised me to be. He gave me the tools to approach life and to compete, so I’m not going to waste them.”

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