MCDONALD, Kan. (KSNW) – One of the Olympic athletes we’ll soon be cheering for in South Korea calls Kansas home.
Katie Uhlaender is a skeleton racer who grew up in Colorado, but now lives in far northwest Kansas when she’s not in competition.
“Atwood, McDonald, Bird City, That’s like my little town,” said Uhlaender in a recent interview.
She believes people in northwest Kansas understand her Olympics dreams because they have a similar work ethic.
Katie Uhlaender has been a mainstay on the U.S. skeleton team for more than a decade. She made her Olympic debut in 2006, finishing sixth. Four years later, she was 11th, and at the 2014 Games, she was fourth, just .04 seconds away from a medal. After Sochi, while recovering from injuries, she took a break from skeleton and tried track cycling.
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She learned to love that attitude and agriculture from her father, professional baseball player, Ted Uhlaender, who bought a cattle ranch outside McDonald, Kansas, several years ago.”That community goes hard,” said Uhlaender. “Ranchers, farmers of America know what it’s like to get up, work day in, day out, put everything they have into what they’re doing.”
Katie even spent one year at Bird City Junior High, living with friends while her mother went through cancer treatment.
“So during that time, that year she was here, her mother was very sick and wasn’t here so it was a tough time for her,” recalls Anita Pochop, whose daughter went to school with Uhlaender. “It probably made her stronger.”
Uhlaender returned to the school years later as an Olympian to receive a plaque for “Outstanding Achievement” and to give young athletes some encouragement.
“Oh, I think she’s an inspiration to all of them,” said Melissa Dart, school secretary. “You can come from Riley, Kansas, like Jordy Nelson, or Bird City like Katie Uhlaender, and you can go places, sure.”
More than talent, it takes toughness. Kids still remember Uhlaender lifting weights with them or dragging tires in the dirt– a flat land workout for a mountain sport.
“I was like in junior high, and Katie used to have me race her when she was training,” said Bird City student, Jesie Frisbie. “She would let me go 5 or 7 seconds before her, and then she’d have to catch up to me.”
Uhlaender stays at the Frisbie ranch when she’s not competing. Though her dad has died, and her mom lives in Colorado, northwest Kansas is where her heart is.
“I have not been home in so long, and I miss Big Ed’s in Bird City, Kansas,” said Uhlaender with a chuckle.
Big Ed’s is a steak house, decorated with deer and even an alligator mounted on the walls. The restaurant owner and other area residents believe Uhlaender is putting their town on the map.
“It’s amazing. I love it. To get that exposure,” said Sherry Cherry of Big Ed’s, shaking her head.
“When she gets on her sled on TV, and it says where she’s from, it will say McDonald, Kansas!” said longtime resident, James Mellinger.
As the townspeople make plans to watch Uhlaender compete, no matter how she finishes, what they’ll remember long after the Winter Games are her Kansas values of hard work and humility.
“She’s a western Kansas girl,” said Rod Young, Bird City resident. “Of course, she’s going to make it!”
“She’s down to earth. She’s right here with us,” Pochop agreed. “We’re proud to call her one of our own!” said Dart.
KSN will update you as Uhlaender advances in Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Olympic Games – Skeleton