Saturday, March 8, 2014
Seth Wescott and Julia Clukey are among the world's best athletes in their sports.
Seth Wescott returns to Carrabassett Valley each off-season.
John Patriquin / Staff Photographer
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
Wescott is the face of snowboardcross, the two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist. Clukey, a 2010 U.S. Olympian, finished last winter ranked sixth in the world in luge.
They are regarded as Maine's best hopes to compete in the next Winter Olympics, to be held next February in Sochi, Russia.
They could live and train anywhere, but both return to Maine each off-season -- Clukey to her home in Augusta, Wescott to Carrabassett Valley -- both for its quiet comfort and the chance to give back to the communities and state that supported them over the years.
Both are heavily involved with the state's youth. Clukey speaks to high school and middle school students across the state on what is called the "Responsibility Tour" and sponsors a summer day camp in Readfield for young girls. Wescott is actively engaged in WinterKids, a nonprofit organization that promotes winter sports for children, and also participates in the Level Field Fund, which provides funding to athletes in financial need.
And just this year, Wescott entered into an agreement with the Maine Lobstermen's Community Alliance in which he will contribute 5 percent of the sales of his signature Bern helmet to the association.
"I think we're really lucky to have both of them," said Ethan Austin, the communications manager at Sugarloaf, where Wescott co-owns a restaurant at the base of the mountain. "I know Seth well. I've met Julia. They're very similar. They love the state and want to do good things with the fame and success they've had on the world stage."
There is almost a need for both of them to give back.
"Maine made me the kind of person I am as an athlete, from the opportunities and experiences I had as a kid," said Clukey, 28. "So I want to give back to the state the way I feel I've been given and I'd much rather pour my passion here than somewhere else."
Both could be elsewhere in the summer months -- Clukey at Lake Placid, N.Y., training with the U.S. team; Wescott in Park City, Utah, with the U.S. Ski Team. But both return to their home state to remain grounded.
Peter Carlisle, the marketing director of Octagon, a sports management business based in Saco, has represented Wescott for 15 years and said Wescott has never wavered in his desire to be in Maine and help Mainers.
"He and I have had many conversations about Maine and the importance of staying around," said Carlisle. "It's been satisfying to see how, time and time again, he has stayed here. He's had countless opportunities to move. You see other athletes moving to (Los Angeles), see them buying different properties, see them moving to easier places to train. But Seth has never wavered as to where he calls home. Maine is where he lives. He loves it and that's where he's at."
Wescott, 36, is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. In April while in Alaska, he fell into a crevice while working with noted cinematographer Warren Miller. But even after traveling the world, he has a very simple reason why he returns at the end of each competitive season to his home base in Carrabassett Valley:
"Maine has everything that I love and love to do. There's a sense of home when you grow up here, between the mountains, between the coast with the surfing, all the different places to play golf in the state. I love Maine as a place to recreate.
"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).
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."
MAINE'S CALMING LIFESTYLE
That's exactly how Wescott and Clukey feel. They give back because they have received so much.
In return, they embrace Maine's calming lifestyle.
"Maine just has a special sense of home to me," said Wescott, who was born in North Carolina and moved to Maine when he was a fifth-grader. "I think, especially in the last seven years, having gone through all the experiences that I have had and having my life change a lot, the people here really treat you as they knew you before and kind of let you live a normal life."
Likewise, Clukey -- deep into her off-season training -- embraces the calm she finds when she returns to Augusta.
"Being in my own environment, where I'm most comfortable, and getting to hang around with my family and friends," she said, "it allows me to go into my next season a lot stronger."
Coming home allows them to see where they're needed. And, said Wescott, the places are still many.
"There are so many things going on in Maine that sometimes just need a push in the right direction to get past the tipping point," he said. "The more that I'm in the public eye, the more I get to meet people with public causes. And I want to help them."
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: