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First Person

Luge champ Julia Clukey on the run

After major surgery, the newly crowned national women’s luge champion from Augusta, Maine, is back on the fast track.

“To be a great slider, you have to be able to adapt quickly on the sled,” says 27-year-old Julia Clukey.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

“To be a great slider, you have to be able to adapt quickly on the sled,” says 27-year-old Julia Clukey.

USA Luge has a recruitment tour that travels around. We put rollerblade wheels on sleds, go to different cities, and introduce the sport to kids.When I was 12, my friend and I read about the tour coming to Portland, Maine. We thought IT SOUNDED LIKE FUN. They set up a bunch of cones for us to weave in and out of. A couple months later, I got a letter in the mail inviting me to Lake Placid, New York, that winter to try the real sport on ice.

Right from the very first run I KNEW I LOVED THE SPORT, the adrenaline rush. I was immediately hooked. We reach UP TO 5GS OF PRESSURE. It’s not comfortable. We call it “losing our head,” which means our head is forced so far back that we can’t see anything. You feel like you can’t move, even if you want to.

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I’m happy that at some point I’ll hang up my sled and, at least, I’ll have one [national] title. To win the title GAVE ME HUGE CONFIDENCE in my sliding.

I got diagnosed with Arnold-Chiari Syndrome, a malformation where the lower part of the brain sits too low in the skull. It causes issues with balance, some nerve issues, severe headaches. I put off surgery until March 2011. They went in through the base of my head and took out 8 MILLIMETERS OF MY SKULL BONE to relieve the pressure. There were definitely times that I thought I was never going to be able to train like I had in the past. And in this sport, preparation is everything.

I’d like to go out there every weekend and SLIDE TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY, not holding back on race days. It’s been a while since I’ve felt healthy sliding, so I don’t want to waste this time.    — As told to Shira Springer

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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