Katie Uhlaender wears 1972 Reds NL Championship ring around neck during skeleton races to honor dad

You might have seen a shiny piece of Cincinnati sports history sparkling in the sunlight at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

You needed to look fast, though, because it was traveling around a track at speeds in excess of 80 mph.

While Katie Uhlaender calls Colorado home, the United States skeleton team member who finished fourth in this year's Olympic event wears a Reds National League Championship ring around her neck at all times – even when she’s going down the track face-first on a small, bony sled.

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The 29-year-old is the daughter of former MLB outfielder and manager Ted Uhlaender, who won a 1972 NL pennant while a member of the famed Big Red Machine. It was his lone season in the Queen City, but one of the most memorable in his eight-year big league career.

During that season, his last year as a player in the majors, he served strictly as a reserve outfielder and occasional pinch hitter but he came through in the clutch in October. He went 1-for-2 in the National League Championship Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He also had a double in one of his four at-bats in the 1972 World Series against the Oakland A’s.

Much like her father, Uhlaender, who is known for her vibrant red hair, was a natural athlete. She started racing skeleton in 2003 at the age of 19. Just three weeks after her debut she became a U.S. Junior Champion. Five weeks after that she was the national champion.

Ted was there when his daughter captured the top prize at the World Championships in 2007 and 2008.

If fact, he was always there to cheer her on, even as he served as a bench coach for the Cleveland Indians in 2000 and a scout for the San Francisco Giants from 2002 to 2008.

But in 2008 Uhlaender's father was diagnosed with cancer, multiple myeloma to be specific, and over the course of the next year she watched his health deteriorate.

On the morning of Feb. 12, 2009, during the women’s skeleton World Cup season finale at Utah Olympic Park, she called Ted like she did before every race. She told multiple media outlets that he helped her focus on the race and not let her nerves get the better of her.

But just a few hours after that conversation, Uhlaender's father and biggest fan died of a heart attack at his ranch in Atwood, Kansas.


Karen, Ted’s wife and Katie’s mother, didn’t tell her daughter of her father's passing until after the competition was finished. She finished second.

"I was angry," she told ESPN during an interview on Thursday . "I had no passion to go to the Olympics. I didn't want a medal. I wanted my dad."

Uhlaender said in a pre-Olympics interview that her father made her feel like a "warrior" and losing him caused her to lose a "purpose."

Six weeks after her father's death, she crashed her snowmobile in what she described to ESPN as a “rebellious stage”. She shattered her kneecap in the accident.

"It was like, 'I know you told me not to do this but I'm going to go out there and do it now because I can,'" the ESPN article quoted Uhlaender, who injured her knee again in the same year and has a total of four surgeries on it.

"I still wonder if I purposely crashed. I was in such a state of chaos I didn't care. I would just go do something, and whatever happened, I didn't care about the consequences." 

Through all this chaos, Uhlaender headed to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics as a medal contender. But Opening Ceremonies were on Feb. 12, 2010 -- the one-year anniversary of her father's death.

She said she couldn’t handle the coincidence and when her day came to race, she was an emotional wreck. She finished in 11th place.

While she’s had her ups and downs since her father’s passing, Uhlaender has kept her dad near to her heart, literally and figuratively, by wearing his ring on a necklace. She also wears a small baseball pendant that contains some of his ashes.

Uhlaender told ESPN she wants to inspire people, much the way her father did.

"I want to inspire people like (my dad) did. I want to lift people up and help them rise up and conquer their own challenges so they feel invincible. That's what he did for me. He made me feel like a warrior. I want to do that for other people."

She won gold in both the women’s and mixed team competitions during the 2012 World Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y. and was competitive leading up to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Although the rest of the world had largely written off Uhlaender, who'd fallen to No. 15 in the world, she came into the Olympics as the track record holder and with something to prove -- especially considering Wednesday was the fifth anniversary of Tim's passing.

"Not to get all dark, but it's been a long road back," she said. "I'm finally able to embrace those tools my dad gave me."

Despite the fact she had two slowest practice runs of her two-week stint in Sochi on Wednesday, Uhlaender came out strong the following day on Day 1 of competition. She put together two solid runs and was in fourth place heading into

Friday's final.

While her chances at a medal were real, sitting in third place and .48 seconds behind the leader after four runs, her Hollywood ending wasn't meant to be.

She ultimately ended up missing the podium by less than a fraction of a second, finishing just .04 seconds behind the competitor who came in third, Elena Nikitina, of Russia. Uhlaender was just 1.45 seconds behind the winner, Elizabeth Yarnold of Great Britain, and .48 seconds behind countryman Noelle Pikus-Pace who took home the silver medal.

Even though she didn't medal, she already has something that means much to her hanging around her neck.

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