December 22, 2013

Augusta luger Clukey ponders future after narrowly missing Olympics

Called ‘classy, graceful’ in the face of disappointment, she is eager to continue her community service work, including for her girls’ camp in Readfield.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — What’s in a blink?

click image to enlarge

Julia Clukey visits the hill in Augusta on Thursday where she learned to slide as a child. The Augusta native, who was 17th in luge at the 2010 Olympics, missed qualifying for the 2014 Olympics by 0.013 of a second in a competition Dec. 13.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

click image to enlarge

Julia Clukey of Augusta talks about her future after she failed to qualify for the U.S. Olympics team that will go to Sochi in February. “I know ... I will learn the lessons I need to learn from this and come out a stronger person,” she said, adding that she will watch the Olympics and “support my team.”

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

For Julia Clukey, four years of sweat, hard work and hopes.

Clukey missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic women’s luge team by less time than it takes the average human to blink. Needing a fifth-place finish or better to qualify in a World Cup event on Dec. 13, she finished sixth by 0.013 seconds.

Now back at her home in Augusta, she is basking in the support of her friends and family as she tries to make sense of what happened to her Olympic hopes and ponders her future at the age of 28.

She had entered the season as America’s top-ranked women’s luger coming off her best season ever, when she was ranked sixth in the world and had two second-place finishes on the World Cup circuit. She was regarded as one of Maine’s best hopes for an Olympic berth, along with Seth Wescott, the two-time defending gold medalist in snowboardcross.

It’s hard enough to miss representing your country and state in the Olympics. That she missed out by what her sister Amelia called “an unmeasurable amount of time’’ makes it even more difficult to comprehend.

“I think I’m still working through the process a little bit,’’ she said Thursday during an interview at the Kennebec Valley YMCA. “I know I gave everything I had. I put everything on the line. I went for it. I had great starts. I had great runs.”

The disappointment is still evident in Clukey’s eyes and in her measured answers when she talks about the race and the results. But, she said, she has no regrets.

“At the end of the day, I knew what I had to do going into the season and I just had a couple of missed opportunities where I didn’t string things together,’’ she said. “And that’s the way our sport is.

“It’s like I tell the high school students in my presentations, you’re going to face adversity and challenges throughout life. And I certainly have faced other challenges and come out a stronger person. I know as time goes on I will learn the lessons I need to learn from this and come out a stronger person.’’

Clukey, who finished 17th in the luge in the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, doesn’t know if she will compete long enough to make another run at the Olympics in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It’s way too soon for her to even think that far ahead.

For now, she’s eager to continue to reach out with her community service work. Clukey, in association with the Maine Beer & Wine Distributors Association, visits high schools throughout the state in what is called the Responsibility Tour, presenting a message of making good decisions, eating healthy and chasing your dreams. She also heads the Julia Clukey Camp for Girls, a 10-day summer camp on Maranacook Lake in Readfield for girls ages 8 to12.

“I’ll still continue to slide and train,’’ she said. “I’m looking forward to focusing energy on my community outreach programs. I will focus a big part of my energy into those endeavors.’’

Her message to the students and girls who attend her camp may be a bit more personal this year.

“She’s got perspective,’’ said her sister Amelia, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Hall-Dale Middle School in Farmingdale, just outside Augusta. “We’ve had family tragedies, with our father dying and our sister dying. This is not anywhere near the level of those. And she has that perspective.

“As she moves into the spring, that will lend itself to her message of overcoming failure and that you are in control of what you do and how you handle your situations. This could turn into a good thing for her once she processes it.’’

(Continued on page 2)

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