Luke Voegeli from Sun Prairie is only luge athlete in training from Wisconsin Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Sep. 24, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Luke Voegeli, luge
Luke Voegeli, 14, a member of Sacred Hearts Parish in Sun Prairie, has been selected as a member of the U.S. Luge Junior National Candidate Team. He will start five months of training and competition in Lake Placid, N.Y., in November. (Contributed photo)

SUN PRAIRIE -- When Luke Voegeli watched the 2014 Winter Olympics, he developed an interest in the luge competition.

It might have been because luge, which takes its name from the French word for sled, is one of the fastest Olympic sports, with riders exceeding 90 miles per hour.

"I had always liked the sport. But it was in 2014 when something sparked for me," said Luke, 14, in an interview.

A lifelong resident of Sun Prairie, Luke is the son of Jane and Nick Voegeli, members of Sacred Hearts Parish in Sun Prairie. Luke, a high school freshman, is homeschooled by his parents.

Outreach programs

After Luke expressed interest in the luge, his father Nick did research about luge online. He found out that 75 percent of the National and Olympic Team luge athletes are discovered through outreach programs such as Slider Search and Luge Challenge held through the United States.

Nick said about 700 young people participate in the Slider Search and about 300 others are evaluated at ski resorts.

Nick took both Luke, then 13, and his younger brother, Matthew, then 10, to a Slider Search in Chicago in the summer of 2014. The boys were tested on their ability to steer a luge sled on wheels down a paved road with a mild slope as well as to respond to voice commands while navigating a sled through a course of cones. Explosive arm, leg, and core strength was also tested by means of medicine ball exercises and standing long jump.

Selected for training camp

Out of about 1,000 youth ages nine to 13, Luke made the initial cut and was one of 120 asked to attend a training camp in either Park City, Utah; Muskegon, Mich.; or Lake Placid, N.Y. Luke was invited to the Lake Placid site.

Eighty youth accepted the invitation to one of these camps. Luke and his dad took the Amtrak to Albany, N.Y., and rented a car for the drive to Lake Placid in February of 2015.

Luke attended the one-week camp with 19 other candidates. Temperatures were sub-zero most of the week.

Starting at the lowest gates on the Olympic luge track, camp participants gained familiarity with the curves and developed confidence sliding at 45 miles per hour.

As the week progressed, Luke and several others advanced to a higher start gate, and their speeds increased to about 55 miles per hour.

When asked what he likes about the luge, Luke said, "I like the adrenalin rush. It's not like anything else. We're going so fast. They have us do a lot of cardio training to control our breathing and keep our heart-rate steady."

Luke believes prayer was a "huge part" of his success on that week in February. "I prayed to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and St. John Paul II, because they were both athletes. It went better after that,”"said Luke.

Based on his performance at the camp, Luke was invited to attend another week-long camp in March in Lake Placid. This time, Luke and his dad drove to Lake Placid. "It was a nice father-son experience driving across the country," said Nick.

Selected for the Junior National Team

Shortly after the March camp, 10 athletes received invitations to join one of the U.S. Luge Junior National Teams. Luke was invited to join the Junior National Candidate Team, or "C" Team. This is the second of four development levels, with the "D" Team being the lowest level.

From the initial 1,000 youth, four were asked to join the “D” team and six — including Luke — were selected for the “C” team.

Junior National "A" and "B" teams will be selected based on how the "C" members perform in competition beginning this November.

Away from home

Luke will be spending about five months away from home training and competing from November 1 to March 6, 2016, with some time home for Christmas and possibly Thanksgiving.

He will be competing in two North America Youth Races in Calgary, Canada, and Park City, Utah. He will also compete in the Empire State Games, the Youth Nationals, and Junior Nationals in Lake Placid.

Since he is homeschooled, Luke was able to get a headstart on his studies. "I started freshman year over the summer to help relieve the stress while I’m training," he said.

However, he will be bringing his books along to keep up on his studies, and he is saving up to buy a laptop computer.

His mother Jane is his primary instructor, as she is for his brother Matthew and sister Margaret. The Voegelis have seven children, including two who live in Alaska, one attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and another attending Sun Prairie High School. "We consider each child's situation differently," said Nick.

Besides his studies, Luke has been involved in his parish as an altar server. He also assists his mother with the children's choir at Sacred Hearts Parish.

His parents have made contact with a priest at St. Agnes Parish in Lake Placid and they met some parishioners while Luke was training there. They will help make sure Luke gets to church for Mass.

Nick said that if people reading this article know people in Calgary or Park City who are Catholic, he would appreciate a call so that contacts can be made in those places to help Luke. Call 608-825-9929.

Nick has also been coaching Luke on his calisthenics training. The U.S. Luge Association provides strict strength and conditioning training programs for the athletes, so that plays a part in Luke’s preparation.

He will be training and competing in singles luge. Team members will be competing against other "C" teams. Those who keep doing well will move on to the Junior National "B" and "A" teams. The next level is the Senior National Luge Team, with the pinnacle being chosen for the Olympic team.

Looking for financial help

Nick noted that Luke’s participation is entirely self-funded. Cost per athlete for the season is approximately $10,000, which includes lodging, meals, training expenses, uniforms and apparel, and travel.

"We're very proud of Luke. We are looking for generous individuals or sponsors to help us. Jane and I have prayed about whether this is God’s will for Luke. We believe it is," said Nick.

Luke has a website at which has a link to a Go Fund Me campaign web page.

The Bank of Sun Prairie has set up a fund for Luke. Checks may be made payable to Luke's Luge Challenge and sent to 550 Broadway Dr., Sun Prairie, WI 53590.

Luke said, "Please keep us in your prayers. I'm looking forward to representing my state and my country as the only luge athlete from Wisconsin."


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