Michael Sohn/AP
Johnny Dodd
February 21, 2014 11:00 AM

Johnny Dodd is a reporter and writer for PEOPLE, currently in Sochi covering the 2014 Winter Olympics. You can follow him on Twitter @Johnny_Dodd.

Like plenty of visitors here in Sochi, Katie Uhlaender is thinking of home.

Uhlaender, 29, came here determined to return to her cattle ranch on the western edge of Kansas with a medal in the skeleton. To get here, she’s spent the past 11 years of her life racking up World Cup titles, competing in two other Winter Olympics and somehow overcoming a frightening concussion after a wipeout in October.

And by the time she finished rocketing down the track at Sochi’s Sanki Sliding Center on Feb. 14, she’d given it her all.

“I left it all on the ice,” Uhlaender told me, describing her performance. “I fought hard.”

Did she medal? No. She missed bronze by 0.04 of a second. Think about that next time you work for something, come up short and feel like complaining. I know I will. And I know Uhlaender certainly has over the past few days.

“I’m gonna start crying again,” she says, laughing as her eyes redden. “Really I mean, 0.04 of a second is less than the blink of an eye. Much less. I mean, you can’t even fathom how little that is I’m sad and a little heartbroken. But it’s like what happens when you skin your knee. It hurts, your eyes water and you acknowledge the fact that it hurts. But after that, what can you really do about it?”

In Uhlaender’s case, all she can do is get back to her ranch and tend to her cattle. After all, calving season is about a week away, and she’s got work to do. Lots of it.

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And in the meantime?

“I’m just going to continue being proud of what I did to get here,” she says. “Besides, there are worst things in life than coming in fourth at the Olympics.”

Tune into NBC tonight for more Olympic action, and check back with PEOPLE.com throughout the day for spoiler-free coverage and more of Johnny’s dispatches from the Games.

Uhlaender during a training run
Natacha Pisarenko/AP

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