SOMEONE YOU SHOULD KNOW
The 13-year-old Amherst resident has joined the USA Luge Junior Development Team.
Kunkle, along with 13 other girls from across the country, will train at Lake Placid, N.Y., this summer, learning the techniques involved in sliding down the luge chute at rapid speeds.
The chute is a cement tube covered with ice.
Luge is an Olympic sport where athletes compete for the fastest time down the track, sometimes reaching 90 mph.
The competitors lie on their backs on the sled and are not strapped in. Their heads don't touch the sled, and their only protection is a helmet, said Kunkle.
The start is the most important part of the run, she added.
There are three steps: block, pull and push.
Block means to pull her arms back and lean into the sled.
When she pulls, she pulls into her legs and then pushes with her arms, paddling with runners, or ice picks. Then, she leans back and tucks, going down the chute as fast as she can. "It's fun - really cold and fast," she said. Her quickest time is 45 mph.
She can't turn too sharply because she will hit a wall.
Kunkle was chosen for the team after she went to a Verizon- USA Slider Search.
Search personnel travel across the country each summer to identify, train, and qualify young athletes for the Luge Junior Development Team, established for boys and girls ages 11 to 14.
The team trains the upper core of the body and arms.
"You have to have big muscles in your arms because it is the most important part," Kunkle said.
While at the camps, she and her teammates train throughout the day. They practice starts on a mini track and jog around a nearby smaller lake.
She recalled her first time on the real track.
"It was fun," she said. "If I make a wrong move I can get hurt. I get bumped around when going down the straight line, but it's not that scary."
Kunkle, who will be a freshman at Amherst Central High School this fall, hopes to some day make the U.S. Olympic team.
She is on the Amherst Thunder travel soccer team and is a referee. She is in Girl Scouts, plays the oboe and is first chair in band. She is involved in three school choirs and the school play.
Kunkle will also take all honors in her freshman year, according to her mother, Lisa.
"It always amazes me when I think of everything that she does," Lisa said. "She is a very good multitasker and very responsible and independent. I think the luge coaches must have seen those qualities in her, and that's one reason she was selected."
If you have a suggestion for someone to feature in this column, send it to Jill Schmelzer, lifestyles reporter, Amherst Bee, P.O. Box 150, Buffalo, N.Y. 14231-0150, or call 204-4914.