So far, so good for local luge racer Sophie Kirkby

Sophie Kirkby concentrates prior to starting a run on her luge sled. (Photo provided)

Sophie Kirkby first hopped on a luge sled 10 years ago, and it’s been steady progress ever since.

A decade into her career, Kirkby, who lives in Ray Brook, said she’s had some great experiences traveling in Europe and she’s seen some success climbing up the competitive ladder, but she also realizes there’s a long road ahead and it’s going to take hard work to get there.

Asked if she’s happy with where she currently stands in the sport, the 18-year-old simply responded, “I am.”

“It’s been 10 years, and I started straight up winging it since day one,” said Kirkby, who competes in women’s singles. “I love the traveling and the experiences that I get to have in the sport. I’ve learned about teamwork, and I’ve learned a lot about living with others. There are also a lot of ups and downs when you really start getting competitive.”

One of her shining moments came a little more than a month ago when she closed out the competitive season by capturing the women’s singles title in Lake Placid at the Norton Junior National Championships a four-run race at Mount Van Hoevenberg.

It marked the first time the 18-year-old has claimed that title, and she still has one more season of racing at the junior level.

On the junior World Cup circuit this season, which featured five races exclusively on tracks in Germany, Kirkby said taking the overall team silver medal was a big highlight.

“Going up on the podium with my teammates, that felt really good,” she said. “We had a very competitive team that finished second overall, and that was a pretty big deal.”

One of her not-so-shining moments came this season in February in Oberhof, Germany at the FIL Junior World Championships when she crashed on her first of four scheduled runs. She ping-ponged off the walls in a straightaway section of the track, which led her to flip while entering the beginning of the ensuing curve.

“That was the worst part of the season,” she said.

Although Kirkby was still eligible to compete in the Youth A division during the 2018-19 season, she was successful enough to move up to the junior level, which is a step away from going up against the world’s best at the sport’s top level. This winter marks her second season racing as a junior with one more year to go there. In five junior World Cup races this past season, she consistently turned in results ranging from 10th to 15th place in women’s singles.

“Personally, I just want to be up there in the rankings against athletes from the other countries,” she said. “My results were OK, but they weren’t as high as I would have liked, and I think that’s something that is definitely going to keep pushing me. I’m just trying to work on weaknesses. I can always be stronger and I really need to continue working on my starts.”

Like just about every other elite athlete in our now coronavirus pandemic dominated world, she is is having to adapt when it comes to keeping in shape, training and preparing for a hopeful upcoming season in this time of uncertainty.

When each winter season ends, athletes are generally thrilled to have a break and totally step away from their sport. In Kirkby’s case, it’s about a three-week hiatus. But after that, it’s back to work.

This spring, however, she is doing what she can while hunkering down at her home in Ray Brook. During recent years, she had been a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, where she’s had all the training tools available, and especially a weight room.

“I’ve got to be creative,” Kirkby said. “I’m not thrilled doing 120 push-ups a day, but I’m doing them, and I flip a couch over for doing squats. Lucky for me, there are a lot of woods around. I’m walking, hiking, running.”

Part of USA Luge’s off-season training for athletes includes three or four summer camps that last about a week each. Kirkby said it’s a waiting game for those, especially because the program’s junior team coach, Robert Fegg, is a Canadian currently remaining in his home country.

“By now, we usually have somewhat of a summer schedule put together, but it’s up in the air right now,” she said.

It’s tough to imagine that sliding down a chute of ice on your back on a sled at intense speeds could be considered “relaxing” but that’s exactly how Kirkby described what she likes about the sport.

“Originally I didn’t even know what luge was until my dad had me try it. I found out I was pretty good at it, so I was put on the team when I was young. I’ve worked hard, tried my best and had my ups and downs, and it’s surprising how relaxing it can be on my back going over 60 miles an hour. I like how I’ve been able to improve my reaction time, and fast reaction times, that’s what makes a good luge racer.”