Katie Uhlaender rediscovering herself after father’s death

Skeleton competitor Katie Uhlaender speaks to reporters during Tuesday's U.S. Olympic Committee media summit in Park City, Utah. Uhlaender says it was difficult for her to come to terms with the death of her father, former major league outfielder Ted Uhlaender.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

PARK CITY, Utah — It has been more than four years since former Minnesota Twins outfielder Ted Uhlaender’s passing, but he continues to guide his daughter’s Olympic preparations.

Katie Uhlaender, one of the nation’s top skeleton racers, wiped away tears Tuesday as she described how her father’s death contributed to her disappointing performance at the Vancouver Games in 2010 and how he now serves as her primary inspiration heading into Sochi. Wearing his 1972 National League Championship ring and a baseball-shaped locket containing his ashes on a silver chain around her neck, Uhlaender acknowledged she lacked the motivation to compete after his 2009 passing and that it showed in her 11th-place finish in Canada.

“He made me feel like a warrior with a purpose,” she said at the Olympics media summit. “And when he passed away, I didn’t have a purpose.”


In the years since Vancouver, the two-time Olympian regained her footing with help from family members and her father’s old baseball pals, including former Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. She said Manuel -- who hired Uhlaender as his first-base coach when he managed the Cleveland Indians -- has shared stories countless stories from Uhlaender’s playing days, most of them serving as inspirational tales about the importance of determination and a strong work ethic.

In her dad’s friends, Katie Uhlaender said, she has found the support system she once thought had disappeared with her father’s death, and that support is reflected in her recent performances. She won the 2012 World Championships and finished second at a World Cup event in Sochi earlier this year, making her a top medal contender for the 2014 Games.

“Not to get all dark, but it’s been a long road back,” she said. “I’m finally able to embrace those tools he [Ted] gave me.”

Uhlaender, 29, vacillated between crying and laughing Tuesday as she recounted her own stories about her father. She pulled out his old Twins baseball card from her wallet and recalled how he fully supported her then-unpopular decision to play on an all-boys Little League team in Texas when she was in grade school. Despite his supportive nature, she says he never let her win at cards or foot races, even when she was a small girl.

“He didn’t hand you anything. He wanted you to earn it,” she said. “That’s what my father was about.”

With that lesson in mind, Uhlaender says she hopes to earn a podium spot in Sochi for her dad and all the people who helped keep his memory alive for her. She says she will be racing there with both the NL championship ring and the locket containing his ashes around her neck.

“I can’t guarantee I’m going to win,” she said. “But I can guarantee I’m gonna make it real hard to lose.”


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