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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They had hoped for 60 girls in the camp's first year, but 95 ended up attending, a third on scholarship. Alberding said they will open it to 120 girls this summer when the camp is held June 17-21 and June 24-28.

"I really wanted to do something geared to that demographic," said Clukey. "Being a role model and a female athlete, I think there is a big void still for positive role models and influences for young girls growing up.

"When my younger sister died in 2010 from mental illness, and struggled with it her entire life, I wanted to make sure I use my status to help other young girls feel good about themselves, that they can do anything that they want."

A ROLE MODEL TO FOLLOW

Of course, Wescott and Clukey aren't the first Maine athletes to give back to the community. They had a pretty good role model to follow.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the legendary runner who won the gold medal in the first Olympic women's marathon in 1984, returned to Maine when her competitive career ended and established the TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race in her hometown of Cape Elizabeth 15 years ago. More than just a running race, it provides hope and funds to organizations across the state.

Each year, the race selects a Maine-based, nonprofit charity to receive a $30,000 donation from the TD Charitable Foundation. In addition, race beneficiaries are allotted 25 entries to raise even more money.

Last year's beneficiary, the Center for Grieving Children, raised an additional $35,000. In all, the race has contributed more than $1 million to the charities.

Samuelson isn't surprised that Wescott, Clukey and others have taken up the charge.

"I think any young person who grows up in the state of Maine and has the support of others gets it," she said. "I certainly had the support of many, many people. You grow up and want to give it back and pay it forward.

"There is a strong work ethic in this state, no shortcut for hard work and achievement. When somebody has the opportunity and makes the most of it, they want to provide the same opportunities to others. We're all in it together for each other."

Others are following.

Russell Currier is a 25-year-old native of Stockholm -- about 185 miles north of Bangor -- and is bidding to make the U.S. Olympic team in biathlon. He got his start at the Maine Winter Sports Center in Caribou. In fact, according to Andy Shepard, president of the Maine Winter Sports Center, the first time Currier tried on skis was the first day the center opened.

Currier is training at Lake Placid. But whenever he can, he returns to Caribou to participate in clinics.

"I can remember when I was that kid, 11-12, seeing any high-caliber athlete was always nice to see," said Currier. "They were an example of what I wanted to be. And it wouldn't be fair of me to not return that."

Simon Dumont, a 26-year-old from Bethel, is one of the world's best freestyle skiers in the half pipe. He, too, is hoping to make the Olympic team. Each March he returns to Sunday River to hold the Dumont Cup competition.

Now he wants to design a park at Sunday River that will be among the best in the world. "The idea is to give the East Coast a West Coast-worthy park," he said. "If I hadn't gone to Sunday River when I was 13, I don't know if I would have become the skier that I have."

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