AUGUSTA — It’s been a good week to be Julia Clukey.
The Augusta native and Olympic luger celebrated her 29th birthday on Tuesday, complete with a surprise party courtesy of Biddeford High School — where she was giving a presentation.
On Sunday, she and eight others will be inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame at its 39th annual awards ceremony at the Augusta Civic Center.
“It’s a huge honor,” Clukey said. “When I found out I was going to be nominated that was enough for me. I didn’t expect to be inducted into it because I am very young. Often times they’re well into their careers (when you get nominated) and I’m kind of in the middle of mine. It’s a great honor and great class with a lot of remarkable people.”
As unexpected as getting into the hall of fame was for Clukey, she also said who nominated her for enshrinement was a bit of a surprise.
“I found out in September,” Clukey said, “and Julie Veilleux actually nominated me.”
Veilleux is currently the head women’s basketball coach at Colby College, and, like Clukey, is a Cony High School graduate.
“She was a senior when I was a freshman,” Clukey said. “Growing up I watched her basketball career and she was a great leader for female athletics.”
Veilleux played basketball at Cony with Clukey’s older sister, but the soon-to-be hall of famer said their paths only crossed professionally after high school. This past summer Clukey spoke at one of Veilleux’s summer basketball camps at Colby.
“I usually have different lecturers, and most of the time they’re basketball coaches or something of that sort; a coach or a player,” Veilleux said. “I’m also open to any athlete that has kind of done something and gone through something and can share that, especially with a female. I think that’s very helpful to the campers.”
What Clukey said during that week not only made an impact on the campers, but Veilleux as well.
“She talked a lot about perseverance through adversity to getting to where she’s at,” Veilleux said. “In order to compete at that level she shared different injuries that she had and different disappointments that she’s had throughout the journey.
“I think a lot of times young kids don’t really understand that someone who has succeeded so much and got certain results they don’t really know the story behind that. I think that they can relate to her not only the fact that she’s from Maine and went to camps like she did growing up, but what it takes to kind of get there.”
When it comes to Clukey’s qualifications to get into the hall, Veilleux — who herself is in the New England Basketball Hall of Fame — believes Clukey is more than deserving of the honor.
“I think her success speaks for itself the fact that she’s been an Olympian and I can’t say that the state of Maine — not that I know the history that much — has had a lot of Olympians,” Veilleux said. “I think she’s been a positive role model in the community so I think that without a doubt makes her a qualifier for such kind of an award.”
As Veilleux mentioned, Clukey has overcome her fair share of adversity in her career. The most recent of which came this past winter, when she fell short by just 13 thousandths of a second from qualifying for the 2014 Winter Games in Socchi, Russia.
Fortunately for Clukey, the news of her getting into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame came right around the same time — late December — as her missing the Olympics did, which she said helped lessen the blow.
As for what the future holds, it’s a lot of the same of what she has been doing.
She is scheduled to speak at Medomak Valley today, and when she does the same at Westbrook next week it will be the 10,000th student she’s interacted with since she began speaking at local schools.
“It’s about being more than an athlete that’s sliding down the track in just racing,” Clukey said. “It’s very important for me to be in my community.”
In addition to speaking at schools throughout the state, Clukey plans to host her summer camp for girls at Maranacook Lake in Readfield once again this summer. She also said she would be joined Sunday at the Augusta Civic Center by a table of her campers.
As far as racing goes — and in particular the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea — Clukey is not ready to make a decision.
“I still haven’t made a decision whether or not I’m going to move forward with the sport, and I certainly haven’t decided if I’m going to be (in it for) another four years,” she said. “It will be a year by year basis. Trusting my gut will tell me what’s best.”
For now, Clukey plans on finishing up her degree. She’s studying electrical engineering at DeVry University, and is hoping to graduate in January.
Evan Crawley——firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: Evan_Crawley