LAKEVIEW — With two full-length tracks in the entire country, luge isn't the easiest sport to break into.
So, the USA Luge team canvasses the nation each year, seeking out preteen recruits in what it calls slider searches. Erin Hamlin was recruited through a 1999 slider search and became the first female American luger to win an Olympic medal during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Perhaps Lakeview's Maya Chan will be the second.
Maya, 12, caught coaches' attention as she rode a wheeled sled during the slider search in Chicago in May 2014. Out of 800 participants who participated in searches in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., Maya was among 80 chosen for a fall screening camp in January.
After testing her luge skills on the shortened track in Muskegon, Mich., the Coonley Elementary School seventh-grader made the second cut as one of 11 girls on the 2015-16 USA Luge National Junior Development Team. It's the first step in the six-step ladder that, theoretically, could lead to the Olympics.
"It's such an unusual sport that not many people get to do, and it was just fun," Maya said. "It's also cool because you get to go really fast."
During screening camp, coaches tested the students' athleticism and how quickly they could start a luge race — a key component to winning.
What started as a fun Sunday afternoon became a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said, with eight weeks of training camp spread over the season.
In July, Maya spent a week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. The D-team also met Hamlin, who shared her story during an hour visit that "felt like 10 minutes" to Maya.
Since the U.S. luge athletes are self-funded, Maya's family set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for equipment, transportation, race entry fees, coaching and lodging. In three weeks, they've raised $2,460 of the $8,000 goal. She also has a website where friends and family can learn about her progress.
Maya returns to training camp next week, and eventually she'll get to test out the Olympic track. With only 16 tracks in the world, it's going to be "really, really awesome," she predicts.
Whether or not Maya takes the "very long road" to the Olympics, her father said it has already been an "enlightening" experience.
"It requires a lot of commitment, so we're just looking at this one step at a time," York Chan said.
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