Will things be “all downhill” for 13-year-old Chicago native Joan Kemper? She and her family hope so. Kemper aims to compete for a coveted spot on the U.S. Luge Jr. Olympic team at the U.S. Luge Association (USLA) screening trials held Jan. 13-16 in Muskegon, Mich.
Kemper, the granddaughter of longtime Rancho Santa Fe resident Joan Sealy, is a newcomer to what the USLA calls the “fastest sport on ice.”
She gained admittance to the training camp after participating in a “Slider Search” event this past spring in Westmont, Ill., one of several held throughout the U.S. The “Slider Search” program is used by the USLA to identify future luge talent, the development of which takes several years.
Should she make it, she’ll follow in the footsteps of other young athletes such as New York native Erin Hamlin, bronze medal winner in the luge at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, who entered the sport through such a search 15 years ago in her home state. Closer to home, Becky Wilczak Brand of Downers Grove, Ill., competed to fifth place at the 2002 Olympics, after being discovered at a search event in 1992.
Joan’s father, Timothy “Bo” Kemper, said, “Last March I saw an article in the paper inviting kids to participate in a search for kids who might show ability to luge. They described a search for young athletes with certain physical and personal attributes. When I shared it with Joan, she thought it would be fun.”
Bo Kemper has years of experience in adventure sports, having served as project manager to the late American adventurer Steve Fossett.
During the spring tryouts, Joan and fellow participants aged 9-13 demonstrated their ability to navigate a wheel-equipped luge sled to the bottom of a smooth, paved-but-hay-bale-lined 32-foot hill at speeds of 25-30 mph. Joan was among those who showed natural ability in aerodynamic positioning, steering, and comfort at sliding at high speeds and were invited to the next round of trials, where they will train on an actual ice luge track.
An athletic, home-schooled eighth-grader, Joan is a little nervous about sliding down an ice tube at 90 miles an hour on what appears to be a cafeteria tray on blades. But she is excited for the chance to make an Olympic team.
“I’m fairly competitive and have enjoyed the speed,” she said. “Just getting a trial for a spot on the team is a great opportunity. I would love to be on one of the Junior teams.”
Ever the optimist, her dad purchased “U.S. Luge Team” T-shirts for all members of the family this Christmas.