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Kleinheinz Wins Gold, Sets Sights on Olympics

Imagine lying on a sled, face up, and venturing down a track in the form of a long and smooth icy slide designed like a roller coaster. This is what the experience of luging entails, where a typical run on a track, with multiple curves that require turning, can take less than a minute.

Santa Clara resident Ellie Kleinheinz, 14, is a young and rising luger who was in Utah in early March to train for the U.S. Youth Nationals. Judged for her speed luging through a track, Kleinheinz won another gold medal in February, this time competing in her second Empire State Games in the Women’s A Division. Kleinheinz shared that her personal record during her training week before the Empire State Games was 45.9 seconds down a track three-quarters of a mile in length.

“During the last Youth Nationals, I came in first,” said Kleinheinz, who aspires to compete in the Olympics someday. “I have high expectations for myself. If I get a gold medal again, it means that I qualify to move up to a higher team.”

Staying fit for luging requires strength training.

“You use a lot of your body as you are going down the track,” Kleinheinz said. “You need all those muscles to keep you in control. My core and my leg muscles are important. There are some parts of the track that apply a lot of force, such as a gravitational push, on your body. So, the track will use those muscles that strength training comes in handy for.”

According to Kleinheinz, as a luger goes through a track, they must look at their feet and keep their focus on what is in front of them. Because lugers are not locked onto their sleds, they must work to avoid falling off. If they fall off the sled, they may not regain control of the sled.

“When you’re first lying on the sled, waiting to start, you have to let the nerves go, and be focused and ready for your run,” Kleinheinz said.

Kleinheinz credited a couple of people for steering her toward the sport of luge, which she has been doing since sixth grade.

“My dad and George Santich, the athletic director at my old school, St. Justin’s, encouraged me to go into luging,” she said. “Since there is no luging track in Santa Clara, all I can do is stay in shape for competitions and training.

“There are two luger tracks in the United States – one in Park City, Utah and one in Lake Placid, New York,” Kleinheinz continued. “The track in Park City is more of a speed track. In Lake Placid, the track is more technical, with more turns.”

When asked about how she fulfills her academic assignments from Archbishop Mitty High School when she travels for training and competitions, Kleinheinz replied, “I still do all the work, just like all the other students in my classes do. I do the work while I’m traveling.”

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