YARMOUTH — Julia Clukey considers missing the 2014 Winter Olympics by 13 thousandths of a second her “greatest failure” in her 17-year luge career.
Yet, as she told a group of 150 or so students assembled in North Yarmouth Academy’s gym Tuesday morning, “It’s important to set new goals for yourself and don’t let (your failures) define you as an athlete.”
Those new benchmarks vary in scope for the soon to be 30-year-old Augusta native, but the ultimate goal will be to prepare for a run at qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
After falling short in 2014 there was some uncertainty as to whether Clukey’s career on the sports’ grandest stage was over, yet to hear her speak a little over one year removed from that disappointment and one week clear of the 2015 World Cup circuit her dedication to luge is pretty clear.
“I honestly can’t get back to the sled quick enough. I love the sport. I have a lot left in my tank and I’m going to ride that as far as that takes me, which I’m feeling pretty confident about going another three years,” Clukey said after personalizing autographs following a 30-minute presentation. “It’s a hard thing to give up when you love what you’re doing and you feel like you still have goals and things left you want to accomplish.
“I’m not ready to walk away and I’m certainly ready to keep working hard and keep getting back to where I want to (in terms of) positions and placing-wise.”
As for her results, it was far from Clukey’s best year on the circuit. She finished in 17th place at the 45th World Championships of the International Luge Federation in Sigulda, Latvia and 21st in the final World Cup standings. Overall, though, it was still a productive year for Clukey.
“It was a transitional year. I was switching over to some new equipment and things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped they would and that’s kind of part of the game,” she said. “I spent a lot of time this season kind of figuring out how I need to have the new equipment set up so that I can be successful.
“I feel pretty positive about where I ended the season so I’m kind of looking forward to diving back in next year. Hopefully, I want to be back in the top 10 in the World Cup and I know that I can be there.”
Clukey does not waiver when she says this because she understands the gravity of her words and what it takes to bounce back when things do not go her way.
In 2004 she lost her father suddenly to a heart attack. In 2009 she tore her meniscus, the following year her sister, Olivia, passed away and in 2011 she underwent brain surgery for Arnold-Chiari malformation.
Each time, though, she bounced back and that is exactly what she plans to do after the disappointment of 2014. That was also her message to the students at NYA Tuesday and, for that matter, the countless Maine children she speaks to throughout the spring and summer.
“I’ve had some challenging times in my personal life — losing my sister, losing my father — and I think those things helped to put it in perspective, and you know at the end of the day I love what I do but it’s not who I am as a person,” Clukey said. “There are other things that I really want to define me and speaking to kids and reaching out to kids, those are the things that are really most important to me (along with) my nephew Lucas, my family (and) the connections I have there.
“When I look back on it those are the things that are going to be the things that are most important to me, not what I finished in a race. Going through those things it certainly helps to leave some of it on the sled, I guess, but a little bit better than five or six years ago (luge) was all I focused on. I think it’s given me sort of balance in my life, which I think is going to help me succeed moving forward.”
It is a message Clukey is next scheduled to share at another speaking engagement at Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield Wednesday, May 13 at 8:30 a.m., although she did say she is currently looking to book more schools at which to speak either before then or after.
Her annual 10-day summer camp for girls in Readfield through the Kennebec Valley YMCA is scheduled for June 17-26 on Maranacook Lake, and she also plans to finish her coursework to get her degree in Electrical Engineering from DeVry University this summer.
As for luge, she is continuing to train with the next big goal a strong showing at the 46th World Championships at the end of January in Koenigssee, Germany.
Evan Crawley — 621-5640