WINTHROP – She heard her introduction, walked onto the high school stage and into the embrace of noisy applause. Julia Clukey smiled a young girl’s tentative smile. She was thrilled with her welcome and taken aback at the same time.

What did I do to deserve this adulation?

Hey, girl, you’re an Olympian. Welcome to the rather exclusive club.

“It’s always loud, it’s always overwhelming,” Clukey said Thursday after her talk to Winthrop High students and faculty members. Some in her audience may not know the difference between the sled she uses in luge and a bobsled. It doesn’t matter. She represented the United States in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

She can’t flash a medal of any color at her appearances. Clukey finished 17th in Vancouver. That doesn’t matter, either. She was one of the three women selected to the U.S. luge team. That a 25-year-old from Augusta is our nation’s best of the best in her sport stands on its own.

Although she can still walk through most airports without anyone recognizing her.

“I did stop for gas in Yarmouth and someone asked if I was Julia Clukey,” she said with a smile. Yes, she was pleased. “But that’s about it.”

She walked into a Hallowell bakery on Friday for a coffee and an interview, and customers did smile and call her name. Maine and the Augusta area always will be home.

She spent 13 of her 25 years learning how to slide at high speeds down mountains on a tiny sled far from American eyes. If she grew up in Germany or Norway, for instance, she wouldn’t need an Olympian’s uniform to be known by thousands for her skill sets.

Clukey’s eyes have been opened this summer to the notoriety that accompanies the title of U.S. Olympian. The stop in Winthrop was one of about 10 she’ll do before resuming training in Lake Placid, N.Y., next month. St. Dominic in Auburn and Waynflete School in Portland are on her schedule. Maybe Wells and Deering, too.

Her appearances are sponsored by the Maine Beer & Wine Distributors Association. The intention is for Clukey to weave talk about the choices teenagers face and their responsibilities into her own story. At Winthrop, giggles rippled through the student body when her affiliation with the alcoholic beverage group was announced.

More to the point, that day’s Kennebec Journal had a front-page story on the sentencing of Jordan Conant, a former star quarterback at Winthrop who had become a wonderful example of high aspirations when he joined the Georgia Tech football team as a walk-on two years ago.

In March he was arrested after a vacant farmhouse was set on fire in Manchester the month before. Conant was one of the eight involved but said to be one of the leaders. He pleaded guilty on Wednesday in Kennebec County Superior Court to lesser charges of criminal mischief, and failure to control or report a dangerous fire. Conant will serve a 364-day sentence.

Two of Conant’s siblings were in the audience when Clukey walked onto the stage. She didn’t talk about Conant’s choices.

“I didn’t know. I had only just read the story (late Thursday morning),” Clukey said the day after. “I wanted to know more before I said anything. I’ve made mistakes. I’m not perfect. I’ve made bad choices.”

The Conant situation was the curveball she didn’t see until the last moment. She ducked away and was honest about it. She’s new to this public speaking gig. She’s the daughter of teachers, not preachers, and there is a difference.

Clukey wants to be a role model. She understands she has earned credibility and the platform that comes with it. She knows the world needs more examples of the right stuff. She should know the world listens more to those who have stumbled and picked themselves up.

How did you do it?

At Winthrop, Clukey simply told her story with a matter-of-fact sincerity that connected with her audience. She was the kid from down the road. The luger who got hurt before she realized her goal of making the Olympic team and did everything she could to march into the opening ceremonies and compete.

Afterward, dozens stood in line for her autograph. Clukey has no one’s autograph. Yet. She would stand in line for tennis player Roger Federer. “No matter if he wins or loses, his attitude is the same. He has no problem tipping his hat to the person who beats him.”

Julia Clukey had examples to help her succeed. She’s learning to be the example others need.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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