In February, Julia Clukey attended the luge world championships in Austria. This time, there was no equipment to lug through customs, or a tight training schedule, or team meetings.

“It was different just being a spectator,” Clukey said.

This upcoming Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of Clukey’s retirement from luge. In the 12 months since her health forced the Augusta native to step away from her sled, the former Olympian has stayed involved in the sport in other ways, and continued to work at being a role model for Maine’s youth, particularly girls.

“It was an adjustment. There definitely was that longing there. I missed significant parts of my completive life, but I also got to invest my time in other things. It’s still a big part of me, I think. I’m excited for the next (Olympic) Games and it’s fun to watch my teammates,” Clukey, 32, said. “I am fine with it.”

As a member of Team USA, Clukey competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. In 2006, she placed fourth at U.S. Nationals. The following year, Clukey made her World Cup debut, placing eighth in her first event in Ingls, Austria. By 2008, Clukey was ranked among the top 12 female lugers in the world. In 2012, Clukey won the national title, and earned a pair of silver medals in World Cup racing. Clukey missed qualifying for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia by the slimmest of margins, 0.013 seconds. She hoped to compete in luge a few more years, and retire after the 2018 Olympics. An old health issue changed Clukey’s plans.

In 2010, Clukey was diagnosed with Arnold-Chiari, a brain disorder involving structural defects that can cause severe head and neck pain, balance problems, muscle weakness and numbness. She underwent brain surgery in 2011, and returned to competition in 2012. During the 2015-16 luge season, Clukey’s Arnold-Chiari symptoms returned. After consulting with her doctors, Clukey decided to retire from the sport. Being fine with her decision doesn’t mean Clukey hasn’t missed luge.

“It came in waves a little bit. I did it for 19 years. I thought that was going to happen. I’m doing very, very well. I’m fortunate. I landed in a great spot at a great job. I’m still active with young people in the community. When you get to do something you absolutely love for so long, there’s an adjustment. It’s a benchmark for what I want to feel like. I want to remain passionate about my work,” Clukey said.

Health-wise, Clukey said she feels much better than she did a year ago. Without the weight training she did for luge, Clukey lost some weight, and that took pressure off her neck and limited her headaches.

“That muscle mass not on my body, it’s back to a more normal weight for itself,” Clukey said. “I don’t have to train like I used to, obviously. My athletic life looks different nowadays, but I’m back to being active which is very important to me… (Arnold-Chiari is) something I’m going to have to manage.”

Clukey paid attention to the World Cup season, following and cheering for her former teammates.

“I didn’t watch every race, because some of them were on at 3 in the morning. I certainly followed the results closely,” Clukey said. “I still sit on (USA Luge) board of directors. I still am very passionate about growing the sport, and the youth development aspect of it, the technology aspect of it.”

Clukey will work for NBC at the Olympics next year in PyeongChang, South Korea, as a statistician on the network’s coverage of sliding sports.

“That’s right up my alley. I’m sort of a data, analytical person. The tech side of the sport was always my favorite. I’m excited I get to stay connected,” she said.

Being on this side of the sport is exciting, she said.

“(PyeongChang’s) not as fast as Vancouver and Sochi, but it’s a technical track. (Team USA’s) strong, but the Russians are strong, the Germans, the Austrians. It’s going to be a battle. There’s only three medals. Hopefully we get one of them,” Clukey said.

Maine is Clukey’s home, and will remain so, she said. She enjoys her job as a recruiter with WEX.

“I feel lucky to be at a company that aligns with my values. They’re really committed to the state of Maine, committed to the community. I actually sit on the philanthropic committee there. It’s a special way to continue that inner passion I have. I’m really happy I ended up there,” Clukey said.

Clukey’s signature event continues to be her summer camp for girls, held at the Kennebec Valley YMCA camp on Maranacook Lake in Readfield. This summer was the camp’s sixth. One hundred and seven girls took part, with approximately half on scholarship, Clukey said. Community support makes those scholarships possible, Clukey said.

As she has since she started the camp in 2012, Clukey tries to use her personal story as an example to the girls.

“I try to be very transparent with them with my story. I was an 11-year old girl from Augusta, Maine. You have to try a lot of things and you have to be open to opportunities that come your way. Then you have to be willing to work really hard for something and be ready to face setbacks along the way,” Clukey said. “So they get a real clear picture. More than anything, I think what makes camp successful is the atmosphere. These are your peers, let’s build each other up. Let’s find out what makes you you. Let’s celebrate those differences. It’s an empowering couple of weeks.

“I’m passionate about Maine and the young people in Maine, and want to continue to look for ways I can use my athleticism to inspire them, to chase their own dreams. I always say we have to get them as excited about school and the skills of the future as they are about being an athlete or following their favorite musician. How can we engage them so that we have a vibrant community?”

It’s weird to be retired from anything at age 32, Clukey said, but she’s eager for the next stage of her life. Clukey is working on her MBA through an online program at Johns Hopkins University. When she competed in luge, Clukey’s goals were well-defined. She knew when the world championships or Olympics were, and what she had to do to be ready for them. The road ahead isn’t so well marked.

“I think I’m still figuring out what my professional path will be,” Clukey said. “The way I did it in luge, where I knew I wanted to be here, It’s not like that now. I certainly know Maine is the place for me. Where that leaves me, I’m not sure, as far as a professional path. But right now, I’m happy.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.