On Friday afternoon, the best year of Julia Clukey’s luge career became oh so much better.
An Augusta native, Clukey earned second place in a World Cup race at Lake Placid, N.Y. In front of approximately 20 family members and friends, Clukey had the most successful race of her career, on the track she knows best.
“It’s very rare we get to race on our home track. I’ve had so many more runs here than any other track,” Clukey said. “It’s always special when I can share what I love.”
On Saturday, Clukey earned her second silver of the weekend, helping Team USA take second place in the team relay.
After this weekend’s stop at Lake Placid, the first luge World Cup stop in the United States since 2007, Clukey was in sixth place in the World Cup standings, 13 point behind Tatiana Ivanova of Russia for fifth place.
Clukey knows every inch of the luge track at Lake Placid. She knows where she can take chances, and where she should reign in the speed just a little. But that’s not the reason Clukey took second place Friday, the best finish by an American on the World Cup tour since her teammate Erin Hamlin won the 2009 world championship.
Clukey’s success is more about hard work than institutional memory. It was almost two years ago, in March, 2011, that Clukey had surgery for Arnold-Chiari Syndrome, a congenital condition that limited blood flow to her spinal column. In the operation, eight millimeters were shaved from Clukey’s skull to allow spinal fluid to drain properly. While recovering, she missed the 2011-12 World Cup season.
And she trained. Clukey’s workouts focused on becoming smoother on the sled. She worked on finesse and balance and agility. Every three weeks, she’d change her workout, to keep her body guessing.
“You don’t want to get into a pattern,” Clukey said.
Was she ever nervous about returning to the hill? Absolutely not. Clukey felt healthy, finally, and when you know you’re 100 percent, your mind doesn’t dwell on little aches and pains. You focus on the task at hand.
“I was very excited. I knew I had worked hard. I’m always going to be one of the hardest working athletes,” Clukey said. “Obviously, being healthy is a big part. Mentally, more than anything else, it’s satisfying when you’re healthy.”
She returned to competition in March of last year, and placed third at the national championships. Last October, Clukey won the national title.
“That was a huge momentum builder for me,” Clukey said.
The best year of Clukey’s career includes continuing to give back to Maine.
Clukey will come home to Augusta in April. She’ll continue working with the Maine Beer and Wine Distributors Association by going to schools and speaking about making good decisions. According to her web site, Clukeyluge.com. she’ll host a camp for girls on Maranacook Lake in Readfield again this summer. On April 20, Clukey will be honored by the Portland Pirates for her community work.
If she’s not thinking of the Olympics now, Clukey will be when the World Cup makes its next stop. On Feb. 23-24, the World Cup races in Sochi, Russia, the host city of the 2014 games.
“It’s always in the back of your head,” Clukey said. “But you have to live here and now and focus on, what can I do today to help my goals.”
For Clukey, the here and now is a pretty good place to be.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242