Meet Julia Clukey, Olympic luger from Maine, who has overcome adversity in her life to become an inspiration to young women, encouraging them to find their passion, set goals and make their dreams happen through her “Julia Inspires” presentations and her summer camp for girls. Read on to learn more about Julia’s life.
Olympian Julia Clukey was born on April 29, 1985 in Augusta, Maine. Growing up in Maine provided her plenty of opportunities to find a passion for the outdoors and winter sports.
As a child, Julia played a variety of sports including basketball and soccer. It wasn’t until the age of 12 that she first tried the sport of luge. One Saturday afternoon, Julia and a friend were looking for something to do on a summer day and found an advertisement for a U.S.A. Luge recruiting tour event on Spring Street in Portland, Maine. As part of the event, U.S.A. Luge provided kids the opportunity to get on a luge sled (with wheels) and slide down Spring Street, one of Portland’s steepest streets. Captivated by the speed, adrenaline and challenges of the sport, Julia was hooked.
A year later, Julia was competing at the junior level in international competitions. By age 17, she had captured many individual Junior World Cup medals and was on her way to success.
Julia has remained dedicated to her success on the luge track and has always placed a heavy emphasis on education. During her days at Cony High School in Augusta, her teachers would send her homework assignments and projects to complete during her training in Lake Placid, New York, and even between competitions from locations around the globe.
“There were times in my career where I struggled to balance my school work with training for luge full time. I think because I grew up in a family full of educators, from a very young age I understood the importance of my school work and grades,” says Clukey. “I quickly learned how to organize myself while I was traveling to ensure my grades never slipped. I strongly believe that my attitude and the work ethic I applied to my education has carried over to my work on and off the luge track. I surely couldn’t have done it alone. I owe a huge thanks to my teachers at Hodgkins Middle School and Cony High School for taking extra time to send me my work while I was away.”
Today, Julia remains dedicated to her sport, and her education, knowing it will be important for life after luge. In 2016, Julia completed her final classes at DeVry University and will graduate with a major in Electrical Engineering.
The 2006-2007 season was particularly important for Julia’s Olympic aspirations. After narrowly making the team for the past year and a half, she returned to competition and raced to a career-best 4th place finish at the Verizon U.S. National Championships. Her success caught the attention of her teammates, her competitors and even surprised herself.
“That was a big step for me. I established to my peers that I could compete among the best in the world. The 4th place finish gave me the confidence I needed to keep following my dream,” said Clukey.
At her first World Championship event in Igls, Austria in 2007, she finished 8th.
She finished in 4th place at the 2007-08 World Cup in Lake Placid and prides herself on being a fourth-time International Start Champion.
In November 2008, Julia again notched her career-best finish in a World Cup competition in Lake Placid, New York when she finished in 4th place, missing the podium by just .04 seconds. The time was also one of her four top-10 finishes during the 2007-08 World Cup season. In addition to her best race time, Julia is a four-time International Start Champion.
In 2010, Clukey reached one of her goals by qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team. For the first time in her career she competed in front of a national television audience at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, where she finished 17th.
In 2010-2011, Julia continued to climb in the World Cup rankings with top 15 finishes. She posted strong times in December that include a 1st place finish in a Nation’s Cup event and a 5th place finish in a World Cup Event at Park City, Utah in late December.
In February of 2012, Julia captured her first two silver medals in World Cup competition. After finishing 6th place overall in the final World Cup standings, she was also named the USA Luge Female Athlete of the Year.
Julia had a career year in 2012-13. She was the 2012 U.S. National Luge Champion, winning her first national title on her home track in Lake Placid, New York.
In 2014, Julia missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team, finishing just 13 thousands of a second away from going to the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Always looking to reach new heights, as a member of the U.S. Luge team, she competes in several national and international competitions.
While Julia Clukey’s life is full of milestones and accomplishments, it also contains times of tribulation. At age 19, Julia lost her father due to a heart attack and at that time put her athletic aspirations on hold and even contemplated her career. After a few months away from the sport, she returned and reinvested herself in the sport.
A significant setback for Clukey occurred during the summer of 2009. She suffered a major knee injury during a training exercise that resulted in a torn meniscus. After surgery that September, she was still using crutches to walk, but got on her sled to compete in the U.S.A. Luge Start Championship in November. Amazingly, just 11 days after returning to the track and still using crutches to walk, she won the event.
In 2009, Julia suffered a herniated disc in her neck and was most recently diagnosed with Arnold Chiari Syndrome, a disorder in which fluid doesn’t leave her brain properly. Strenuous workouts and heavy weightlifting can trigger headaches. To this day, she must closely monitor her training regimen to avoid headaches and other health complications.
In 2014, CNN featured Julia Clukey on The Human Factor, a show that highlights people that have overcome the odds. Click here to watch the story.
Julia’s amazing determination and perseverance continue to push her forward. Julia’s “I made it” moment came at the opening ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. Standing inside the tunnel at the entrance to BC Stadium, Julia remembers looking around, seeing all her other teammates and the American flag being raised prior to being introduced.
“I remember waiting to come out of that tunnel, being amongst all the elite athletes, together at the same time. It was pretty moving,” said Clukey.
Since 2012, each summer Julia hosts “Julia Clukey’s Camp for Girls at Camp KV“on Maranacook Lake in Readfield, Maine. The camp was designed for girls ages 8-11 as a place to develop self-confidence and a healthy lifestyle.
The camp features a wide range of activities including swimming, kayaking, hiking, nature walks, field sports, arts and crafts, theater, and music. Each day of camp also includes “log time” with Julia, where campers have the opportunity to learn about a variety of educational topics. The final day of camp is an overnight camping experience where the campers learn how to pitch a tent, enjoy a BBQ dinner, and roast marshmallows.
In 2017, Julia is scheduled to make several presentations at Maine middle schools and high schools. Her presentations are part of her new Julia Inspires campaign that focuses on encouraging students to find their passion, create a plan and have the courage to go after their dreams. To date, she has presented at more than 60 schools and reached more than 20,000 students. There is no cost to the school. Click here to learn more about her presentations.
This summer, she will also host the sixth year of Julia Clukey’s Camp for Girls, made possible by partnerships with the Maine Beer & Wine Distributors Association and The Kennebec Valley YMCA. Click here to learn more about the camp.