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Luge camp gives girl her whooosh

Olympic hopeful loves speedy sport

Olympic hopeful loves speedy sport

February 24, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Sarah Louderback and her mother will drive eight hours Monday morning from Washington County to Lake Placid, N.Y.

Then, at the Olympic Training Center, Sarah, 12, will lie on her back on a luge as it dashes down a slippery track. Each trip down takes about a minute. She and her luge may go as fast as 35 miles per hour.

Whoooosh. "The fastest sport on ice," Sarah said.

Sarah was born in Texas and lived there until she was almost 6 years old. She had never seen snow until her parents, John and Kris, moved to a neighborhood north of Hagerstown.

It's not clear when she discovered the ice in her veins.

Sarah remembers her father looking on the Internet one day in 2001 and noticing a "Slider Search" sponsored by Verizon.

Each summer, children 10 to 14 years old are invited to learn about luge. They ride wheeled sleds that simulate the winter sport.

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Sarah tried it in Washington, D.C. She liked it. And she was good.

About 800 children tried out, Sarah said. She was one of about 60 chosen to go to one of four luge camps.

For a week, she practiced the sport in Marquette, Mich., with about 10 other children.

USA Luge asked some competitors to come back and try out for the junior development team. It's the lowest of nine rungs leading up to the U.S. Olympic team.

Sarah didn't make the cut.

Last summer, she tried again. She found the closest Slider Search - New York City - and again qualified for training camp.

She spent Jan. 6 to 13 in Lake Placid, N.Y., two-time home of the Winter Olympics and the training site for future Olympians in various sports. "There were 17 kids, 11 of them from Hawaii," Sarah said.

Sarah impressed luge officials enough to reach the next step, the final screening for the junior development team. That's why she's going back to Lake Placid Monday.

Sitting with her mother, Kris, on their living room floor Thursday, Sarah spoke eagerly about her newest sport. It's exhilarating to move so fast while just six inches off the track, with only subtle body movements for steering, she explained.

Noting that top-flight lugers can travel up to 90 miles per hour, Sarah said it takes "a natural knack" and the ability to beat back panic to succeed. "They can't have little wimpy kids out there," she said.

The back of her T-shirt said, "Feel the need for speed."

Sarah, a composed seventh-grader at Northern Middle School with wide eyes and a broad smile, used to be an ice skater and a gymnast. She favors tennis, but she hopes to stick with luge as long as she can.

Luge and skeleton are similar sledding sports. Skeleton is face first; luge is feet first. In bobsled, a cousin, competitors hop inside the sled after giving it a push start.

The start is crucial. Sarah said that in luge, it requires a reach forward and a slingshot ahead.

"You have to have upper body strength," she said.

Sarah is starting to work on that. She has a new pull-up bar at home.

She practices turning a luge while lying on her couch - right shoulder slightly down, left foot slightly up for a right turn, and vice versa.

Sarah said she developed good body control from gymnastics and from Space Camp in Alabama two years ago.

Luge has found its way into Sarah's life with piano, violin, school and her brothers - Tom, 15, and Ben, 9. "I'm a rose between two thorns," she joked, without her brothers around to defend themselves.

Asked if she has pipe dreams of Olympic glory, Sarah shows her control. "It would be great to make it that far" is all she'll say.

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