NEGAUNEE - Most kids know what it's like to go sledding during the winter. And while Derek Rogers, 14, of Negaunee spends about three days a week out on a sled, what he does isn't your run-of-the-mill sledding experience.
A member of the Lucy Hill Luge Club, Rogers, an eighth- grader at the Negaunee Middle School, does his sliding down the ice coated natural luge hill in Negaunee.
"To get your fastest, you have to get a good line," Rogers said. "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line."
Derek Rogers takes a run down the Lucy Hill naturbahn luge track. The 14-year-old rider, a four-year veteran of the sport, has his sights set on the U.S. National Luge Team. (Derek Rogers photo)
When he was 10, Rogers said the club's coach Tammy Wills came to talk at his school about the club and he decided to try it out.
"I thought it would be fun to try," he said.
Now a veteran member of the club, Rogers heads to the luge hill three days a week after school.
Luge as a sport is divided into two types - natural luge or naturbahn luge, which is performed on a natural hill bordered by snowbanks and boards, and kunstbahn, or artificial track luge, which is the sport seen on at the winter Olympic Games.
Athletes lie on the natural luge sled, which rides on metal runners, face up and feet first, steering and controlling the sled with their feet and hands.
Much of practice each day is spent learning to navigate the various curves on the Lucy Hill track, Rogers said.
"We'll go on a bunch of different parts of the track," he said.
Lucy Hill, like other luge tracks, has a series of gates that travel up the hill, allowing the sliders to start at different points on the hill, depending on their experience. The more experienced they are, the higher up on the hill they go, working to control their speed around corners to make the fastest time.
"You control your sled with your feet," Rogers said. "You have complete control of your sled."
Sliders can not only steer their sled by pushing on the sled with their feet, but also control their speed using spikes imbedded in the heels of their shoes, which allows them to slow down when going around a curve, if necessary.
The club typically holds several races each season, which allows the members, who are as young as four or five years old, to get in some friendly competition.
In addition to the races, Rogers has also had the opportunity to travel with some of the club members to Lake Placid to get some summer training at the Olympic Training Center there. Although the Olympics showcases artificial track luge, Rogers said the training center there helped him to get in training specifically for starting a run. When a slider leaves the starting gate on a luge track, they push off using two handles, giving them their initial burst of speed.
"You can't make up speed once you lose it," Rogers said. "It was good to go through all the training. It definitely helped."
Rogers said he hoped to attend the training camp again this summer or fall.
In coming years, Rogers said he also hoped to travel to Europe to compete, and then possibly join the U.S. Junior National and then the National Luge team. Getting to the Olympics, however, will mean transitioning to the artificial track.
"The Olympics luge is easier to do than the natural track luge that I do," he said, adding that the natural luge track tends to be more technical because it's not on a man-made surface.
The main point of the whole sport, however, is to have fun.
"It's a fun sport," he said. "I have a lot more fun than sitting inside and playing video games."
Luge is also something unique that Rogers said he participates in that not many others at his school do.
"Everybody wants to be a basketball player," he said.
For those who want to expand their athletic horizons, however, the Lucy Hill club offers public sliding every weekend. Fridays are known as Friday Fun Nights, running from 6-8 p.m. at the hill. Kids under 18 can slide for free, while the fee for adults is $10. Saturdays are $10 per person and are open from noon to 4 p.m. Sundays the hill offers private lessons.
The public sliding offers equipment and instruction. Participants just need to arrive dressed warmly and ready to slide.
For more information about the public sliding or about joining the club, contact coach Tammy Wills at 906-361-4843.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.