The Summer Olympic Games are over for another four years. But Julia Clukey’s road to the 2014 Winter Games has already begun.
Clukey, who made the U.S. Olympic luge team in 2010 and came in 17th overall, has her sights set even higher. She sees her accomplishments, as well as her setbacks, as stepping stones.
“It took me 12 years to make the Olympic team,” said Clukey, during an interview in July while she was back home in Maine for the summer. “I tell kids that the only person who can limit your potential is yourself. “
This past summer, Clukey shared her message of perseverance with 95 girls between the ages of 8 and 12 at her first-ever camp for girls at the Kennebec Valley YMCA’s Maranacook Lake camp in Readfield. Clukey spent “log time” with the campers every day, helping them to understand the importance of “creating a body that you’re proud of,” through exercise and sports.
“I’m passionate about being a female athlete,” Clukey says. “It’s important to be confident and proud of who you are.”
Clukey also makes presentations at Maine high schools as part of her work with the Maine Beer and Wine Distributors responsibility initiative.
“Some kids have tough lives,” she says. “I lost my dad when I was 18. To not have him be there to see me achieve my goals was tough. If I can use my personal experiences to help people, I want to do that.”
Clukey became hooked on the sport of luge at the age of 12 when she got a chance to try it on dry land at a demonstration in Portland. She says she was captivated by the speed, the adrenaline and the challenge. Within five years, she was winning individual junior World Cup medals.
Clukey had high hopes of making the 2006 Olympic team, but finished fourth in the qualifying race (the top three make the team). She says she took some time off and realized that she “wasn’t done” competing. The next three years of training and competing saw her notch personal bests and continue to improve. Her efforts culminated in her achieving her dream of making the Olympic team in 2010.
Since those games in Vancouver, Clukey has endured other setbacks. A younger sister died in 2010, a devastating loss for the whole family. Clukey was diagnosed with a rare congential condition during the Vancouver Games that was causing severe headaches. In March 2011, a neurosurgeon shaved off 8 millimeters of Clukey’s skull so that blood could flow more freely to her spinal column.
As another World Cup season approaches – the first stop is in Sochi, Russia, where the 2014 Olympic Games will be – Clukey says she feels ready to go. And no matter what lies ahead, she knows she has learned how to face adversity.
“Being able to stay focused, to push through, but stay patient, is something I’ve been dealing with,” she says. “In our sport, experience is everything.”