Augusta native and 2010 Olympian Julia Clukey returns to luge competition next week, nearly a year after undergoing surgery to correct a congenital condition that limited blood flow to her spinal column.

Clukey will compete in the season-ending USA Luge Norton National Championships at the Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid, N.Y. She was hopeful she could compete this winter in the World Cup season, but the surgery, to correct a condition known as Chiari Syndrome, generally takes a year of recovery time.

“Dr. (Robert) Bray said it would probably be a full year, but I was hoping to get back sooner,” Clukey said. “My body needed time to adapt. He was definitely right. At Christmastime I thought I was 100 percent, but I’ve been getting better every week.”

Clukey, 26, said she missed the World Cup competition but it gave her an opportunity to focus on other aspects of he training, both in the gym and on the luge track at Lake Placid. She’s been there since the end of November and has to close to 150 runs under her belt. During the World Cup season, competitors average 60-70 runs. She’s also had a chance to test new equipment, specifically the steel runners that guide the luge sled.

“You can change the shape and angle and move the balance point,” she said. “All those things change your control of the sled.”

The race format for the U.S. Nationals has been changed from two runs to four to mimic Olympic competition. The runs also serve as seeding races to help determine selection of the national team next fall. Erin Hamlin, who competed in the 2010 Games in Vancouver along with Clukey, is aiming for her fifth national title. Clukey last competed in the nationals in 2010 when she placed second.

“I’m really happy with my training times,” she said. “I hope to be on the podium.”

Although Clukey’s short-term goal is make the U.S World Cup team next fall, her long-range objective is to qualify for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The timing of her layoff could not have been better.

“It was a perfect year for it with the Olympics being two years away,” she said.

After the nationals, Clukey will return to the area where she’ll continue to speak to students around the state as a spokesperson for the Maine Beer and Wine Distributor’s Association. She’ll return for periods of training at Lake Placid during the summer before resuming training in the fall.

Clukey also recently partnered with the Kennebec Valley YMCA in beginning the Julia Clukey Camp for Girls. It will be held June 20-30 at Camp KV on Maranacook Lake in Readfield. The camp is designed for girls entering grades 4-7 to promote self-confidence and a healthy lifestyle.

“I’m going to be at the camp all day, every day,” she said. “It’s very important to me to inspire future generations to dream big.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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