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SPOTLIGHT
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Olympian has NW Kansas ties

Published on -2/14/2014, 10:13 AM

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Special to the HDN

Rawlins County Olympic viewers watched their favorite U.S. skeleton racer flash down the track to a fourth-place finish in the first two runs Thursday and have hopes of seeing her on the medals podium tonight.

Katie Uhlaender, 29, who calls a farm near Atwood home, has been featured in national and international media coverage of the U.S. skeleton women's team and chose the helmet she wears, emblazoned with a large eagle, through a Twitter contest.

Uhlaender's times were 58.83 and 58.75, for a total of 1:57.58 - 0.69 of a second behind first-place racer Elizabeth Yarnold of Great Britain.

The final two runs will be today, with Uhlaender and the other skeleton competitors lying on their stomachs on stripped-down sleds and speeding at up to 85 miles an hour face-first down a curving, plunging, nearly milelong track of ice.

Working the farm

Uhlaender, who is currently ranked 15th in the world, began working the Rawlins County farm purchased by her father, Ted Uhlaender, a former outfielder for the Minnesota Twins, after his death in 2009.

She spends time at the farm mending fences and caring for cattle when she isn't busy training for skeleton competition or preparing to compete in weightlifting in the 2016 games.

Not only is she competing for the gold for the United States, she's bringing Rawlins County its 15 minutes of fame.

Uhlaender competes at a pace that is hard to fathom for many of her Rawlins County neighbors.

Proud neighbors

"It's bad enough driving a car at 85 miles per hour," said area farmer John Skolout.

However, they are excited to see her compete and will be happy to welcome her home afterward -- no matter how things turn out in Russia.

"We feel a connection to her because she's moved here, and she's making a life here," said Atwood area farmer Ken Higley. "She's a very nice gal, tough to the bone. She's the type of gal that if you give her a mission, she'll figure out how to do it."

Higley said Atwood and McDonald area residents are "very proud of the fact that we've got somebody from our county and our town competing at the Olympics."

"Everybody plans on watching her," he said. "It's pretty exciting for us."

Higley described Uhlaender as a "go-getter."

"There's no grass growing under her feet," he said.

Xavier Ramirez, of rural Atwood, was a longtime friend of Uhlaender's father. Before Uhlaender's family moved to Rawlins County, she and her brother lived with Ramirez for half a year while their mother was fighting cancer. He said she attended junior high in Bird City at that time.

"She was a Cheylin Cougar," he said.

Ramirez was looking forward to watching Uhlaender's performance and planned to rise early and search online for today's results.

"Of course I think she'll get the gold," he said. "She's very determined -- just like her dad was -- and she's really, really good."

Melinda Basnett, who knew Uhlaender's mother when her parents lived on the farm and has met Uhlaender, said Thursday afternoon that she had set her DVR to record Olympic coverage that night while she attended a McDonald City Council meeting.

"We're all rooting for her," she said. "Everybody here's excited for her -- we kind of have a claim on her. You don't get to say you know an Olympic athlete very often."

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