READFIELD — There’s no retirement for Julia Clukey — at least not yet.
The Augusta native and member of the U.S. luge team will compete on the World Cup tour for at least one more season. Clukey made the announcement Tuesday afternoon at her summer camp for girls on Maranacook Lake. Clukey said she hasn’t ruled out staying in the sport long enough to compete for a spot at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I’m ready to get back into the swing of things,” Clukey said. “At this time, a one-year commitment is very comfortable for me.”
In March, Clukey won a gold medal at the national seeding race. In May she was named to the U.S. national team. Still, the biggest factor in her decision was getting the blessing of her family. Clukey is close to her nephew Lucas, who will begin school in the fall. Lucas is the son of her sister Olivia, who died four years ago.
“Having Lucas in our lives is a great joy and a great gift. It’s hard to leave my family, but it’s really hard to leave him,” Clukey said. “I’m gone for six months a year. It’s difficult on my family. It’s tiring.”
Clukey’s older sister Amelia never doubted that Julia would return to her sport.
“I absolutely thought she’d come back,” Amelia Clukey said. “Physically, she’s strong. She’s good to go.”
Right after the season, Clukey came back to Maine and took a breather.
“When the season ended in March, for probably a month I didn’t think about the sport of luge,” Clukey said. “I’m amazed that was able to happen, but I was just so happy to be home with my family.”
A month ago, she told her coaches she expected to be back, and Clukey began training. Rather than just putter around the gym, she started planning her workouts. When she was inducted in the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in early May, Clukey knew for sure she wasn’t done with luge.
“It hit me, there’s other goals I still have. I have to try to reach them. I have a lot of energy and love for the sport left,” Clukey said. “I think I can get back on the World Cup podium. I’m always learning about my equipment.”
Clukey represented the United States in the Winter Olympics in 2006 and 2010. At the Vancouver Games in 2010, Clukey finished 17th in the luge.
The 2012 national champion, Clukey missed qualifying for the 2014 Winter Olympics by .013 seconds at the U.S. trials in Salt Lake City. Needing a top-five finish to secure a spot on the Olympic team, Clukey placed sixth.
“Almost two miles of racing, it comes down to just under a centimeter. Really, I knew I’d given it everything I had. The biggest thing was deciding if I had the drive and commitment to make sure I could show up at the World Cup level ready to go,” Clukey said.
She finished the season on a strong note, winning the Norton U.S. National Sledding Race on her home track in Lake Placid, N.Y.
“I feel really good right now. Obviously, missing the Olympics was everything last year. Winning the races in Lake Placid meant a great deal to me,” Clukey said.
Clukey will continue her community service, which includes her camp for girls each summer.
“This is like the highlight of her year. She looks forward to this for months,” Amelia Clukey, who also works at the camp, said.
Clukey will continue speaking at schools around the state on behalf of Maine Beer and Wine Distributors, encouraging students to make good decisions.
“My community involvement is so important to me. It makes me feel like a fuller person. It’s far more gratifying than anything I’ve done on the sled,” Clukey said. “That helped a great deal in moving on from the Olympics. Recognizing luge is what I do, but it’s not who I am and it doesn’t hold all my worth.”
The next Winter Olympics are simply too far away to make a commitment, Clukey said. For now, she’s content to compete at the World Cup level next season.
“Any other year, it would be easy to say yes, four more years, no problem,” Clukey said, “but where I am with my life, four years is a long time.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242