READFIELD — Julia Clukey often talks to her summer campers about never giving up and coming back from adversity. Tuesday she gave them a first-hand life lesson.
Clukey, the Augusta native and former Olympian who barely missed landing a spot in the 2014 Winter Olympics, announced that she would compete next season for the U.S. national luge team. She wouldn’t commit beyond the 2014-15 World Cup season – and a run at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea – but stressed she wasn’t ready to stop sliding down that icy course just yet.
“I’ve been working out for about a month now,” said Clukey in a press conference at her summer camp for girls on Maranacook Lake. “There’s more goals left that I have for myself. I spent the last eight days with the girls talking about setting goals for yourself, never giving up on yourself.
“I still have a lot of fuel left in my tank and things that I want to accomplish in my sport, and I’m ready to cross some more things off my list.”
Clukey, 29, said that she made her decision about a month ago and informed officials at U.S. Luge. She has been named to the U.S. national team that will compete in the World Cup events.
“We’re glad,” said Gordy Sheer, the director of marketing for U.S. Luge. “She’s a great role model, not only for our upcoming athletes but those already on the team. She’s hard-working, exemplary on and off the ice.
“(Last year) was obviously a heartbreak situation for Julia. That’s a hard thing to swallow. But we’re so glad she made the decision to come back. She’s proven that she’s a medal-winning athlete.”
Those closest to Clukey knew she would return. They were with her last December when she failed to make the U.S. Olympic team.
Clukey, who had a string of bad results at the start of the World Cup season, went into the last qualifying race needing to finish in the top five to make the Olympic team for the second time.
She finished sixth, by .013 seconds.
“I absolutely thought she would come back,” said her sister, Amelia Clukey, a seventh-grade teacher who also works at the girls’ summer camp. “Even after that last race in December when she just missed it, I knew that night that she would definitely return to the sport of luge because she’s so determined. Obviously she was unhappy and disappointed in the way it came out and she knows she can do better.
“She’s just very determined and hard-working. So this isn’t a surprise.”
But Clukey needed time to think about her future. After she won the gold medal at the U.S. national seeding races last March to end the season, she returned to Augusta and didn’t think about luge for a month. She was kept busy with her outreach program, sponsored by the Maine Beer & Wine Distributors Association, to the state’s school children, talking about goal-setting and making good decisions.
And she was planning for her camp, which had a record enrollment of 105 this year.
Eventually she sat down with her family and talked about competing again.
More than anything she wanted to make sure that she would not put a strain on the family – especially with her relationship with her nephew Lucas, the son of her late sister Olivia – if she chose to compete again.
“It’s hard to leave my family but it’s really hard to leave him,” said Julia Clukey. “(But) it’s a lot easier now. Skyping is a big part of being on the road. And just reassurance. My mother supplied that – it’s OK to continue to go after my dreams.”
So Clukey, who picked up the sport when she was 12 years old, flying down Spring Street in Portland during a U.S. luge team exhibition in 1997, started working out to get ready for the season.
Her goal is to be the best she can be on the World Cup circuit again. A podium finish would be nice.
When that season ends, she’ll make another decision.
“At this time, making a one-year commitment I felt very comfortable with,” she said. “After that I’ll re-evaluate with the people who are closest to me and make a decision on 2018.”
That would be the next Winter Olympics. So is she looking that far ahead?
“It’s a year-to-year basis,” said Clukey. “I’ll just say at the end of this year I’ll have a very good idea whether 2018 is in my future, because you know in the sport of luge there are long-term training plans that need to be in place so you can peak when you want to.”
For now, she said, “I’m ready to get back in the swing of things.”