May 26, 2013

Coming home: Maine Olympians give back in the off-season

Seth Wescott and Julia Clukey are actively involved in efforts to guide the state's youth.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Seth Wescott returns to Carrabassett Valley each off-season.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Julia Clukey returns to her home in Augusta in the off-season. “Maine made me the kind of person I am as an athlete,” said Clukey.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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"As I travel the world, yeah, there's bigger mountain ranges, there's warmer climates, there's different stuff. But I think we have such a unique blend. For me, being in touch with the four seasons, ... I couldn't live somewhere where there wasn't four seasons. It teaches you a lot about life, seeing that natural cycle every year. The more I go away, the more I want to come back."

And give back.

His work with WinterKids is important, he said, because it keeps children active in the cold months. "Without it, 10,000 kids wouldn't be exposed to winter sports," he said.

He did a fundraiser for the Camden Snow Bowl because he doesn't want to see the small hills disappear from Maine's skiing landscape. He holds a golf tournament that provides funds for a scholarship at Carrabassett Valley Academy. He is a spokesman for Maine's "Take it Outside" program designed to fight obesity. He works with Special Olympics Maine.

Wescott is involved with the Level Field Fund because he wants to see the next generation of athletes succeed. Among the beneficiaries of the Level Field Fund is Alex Tuttle, a snowboardcross racer from Stratton who could earn a spot on the next U.S. Olympic team.

He's involved with the state's lobstermen because, Wescott said, "I've got some friends in the industry and those guys have been struggling recently I want to help any way I can."

Josh Walker, the brand manager at Bern, said Wescott's efforts have raised about $6,000 this year for the Maine Lobstermen's Community Alliance, and he expects more next year. "Signature helmets are actually tough in terms of being successful," said Walker. "But Seth is traditionally a guy who sells a lot of products. I think this has been one of our more successful collaborations."

Bern is located in Kingston, Mass. Walker said Wescott's partnership with the lobstermen is indicative of the way he thinks.

"He's just a real special case," said Walker. "Most of his contemporaries would have moved to the West Coast, to bigger mountains. He's about creating local opportunities and helping local guys."

'A GIFT TO THE STATE'

After competing in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, Clukey began thinking that way, too.

Up stepped the Maine Beer & Wine Distributors Association. Nick Alberding, the president of the association, said it was looking for a way to reach out to young people about making good decisions. He met with Clukey and said "it didn't take more than two minutes to know that she was going to be the face of our campaign if she wanted to."

She is, he said, and has been everything the association could have hoped.

"She is so committed to touching young people," he said. "Her gift is that when she walks into a room, (the students) all light up. It's her physical presence, her big smile, her approachability, stuff you can't teach. ... To have someone like Julia, completely accessible, to touch, hear and speak to, is a gift. It's a gift to them, a gift to Julia, a gift to the state."

This was exactly the platform Clukey was looking for as well. So she travels across the state talking to high school and middle school students. The tour includes a video that introduces Clukey to her audience -- she said maybe half of the students know what her sport is -- and then she talks about setting goals, finding what you love to do and striving toward achieving that goal.

She is proud of the Responsibility Tour, but takes even greater pride in her summer camp -- perhaps because it is so personal to her. Julia Clukey's Camp for Girls, co-sponsored by the Kennebec Valley YMCA in Augusta and the Maine Beer & Wine Distributors Association, is for girls 8-12 and lasts 10 days on Maranacook Lake. Clukey is there every day. She interacts with the girls in activities (kayaking, swimming, archery) and life lessons (self-confidence, bullying, positive choices).

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