Olympian 'sparks' students at Medomak Middle School
Waldoboro — Olympian luger Julia Clukey visited Medomak Middle School May 2 as part of her ongoing work with the Maine Beer & Wine Distributors Association responsibility initiative.
The Augusta native was invited by a group called SPARK, which stands for Students Promoting Acts of Random Kindness. Jodie Bennett and Molly Brewer — both teachers at Medomak Middle School — organized SPARK, now in its second year.
"We look for ways to give back to the community," said Bennett. The group of 15 students gathers twice a week. This year they are working on perseverance, according to Bennett.
Clukey has presented to more than 30 schools across Maine, sharing her story about the importance of setting goals, making good decisions and overcoming challenges.
The Cony High School graduate has not only placed among the tops in World Cup rankings, but has also finished first in a Nation's Cup event in Park City, Utah in 2011.
In 2010, Clukey qualified for the United States Olympic team and competed in Vancouver, Canada — finishing 17th. In 2012, she was the U.S. National Luge Champion — winning her first national title on her home track in Lake Placid, N.Y. That year Clukey was also named USA Luge Female Athlete of the Year.
And in 2014, Clukey missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team by only 13 one-thousandths of a second.
"That was the hardest failure of my career," Clukey told the seventh- and eighth-grade audience.
Overcoming adversity was part of Clukey's message. After losing her father to a heart attack when she was only 19 years old, she took time off to contemplate her career. Then, after returning to the sport, she suffered a major knee injury which required surgery.
In 2009, Clukey suffered a herniated disc in her neck and most recently was diagnosed with a little known disease called Arnold Chiari Syndrome — a disorder that prevents proper fluid drainage from the brain. Determination and close observation of her training regimen has allowed her to continue in the sport she loves.
As well as being an Olympian and motivational speaker, Clukey runs a summer day camp for girls in Readfield. It is designed to promote self-confidence, positive body image and goal setting for young girls ages 8-11.
"Life is full of challenges," said Clukey. "Embrace them because anything is possible."
Clukey spoke about hard work and setting goals. She got a gasp from the audience when she talked about training for 12 years to get on the Olympic team. And again after she said, "I trained for four years to miss out by .0013 [seconds]."
"Life is like that — you need to stay focused," Clukey added.
Clukey said being passionate about what you do is not enough. Two things she has learned in her journey is "no one is going to push you as hard as you push yourself and how important hard work really is."
Clukey reminded the students to never get too comfortable in what they are doing and "always say yes to opportunities."
During a question and answer period, the students learned more about the sport and Clukey:
What is the fastest speed you have ever gone? "91 mph."
Without your interest in the luge, where would you be? "I am working on my electrical engineering degree."
How much have you lifted in your training? "190 pounds."
How do you stop the sled? "Eventually it slows down enough so I can put my feet down and help it."
What goes through your mind? "I try to clear my mind before a run, that's why I journal a lot."
"At the end of the day, my character is what matters," Clukey said.
Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at email@example.com.