by Andrew Turner
For 40 seconds, 14-year-old Kelly Potter is just a blur in her mother's eyes.
It's no wonder, considering the fact that the middle school science teacher and Lyndonville resident can only stand by and watch her daughter hurtle herself down the side of a mountain.
Kelly Potter is a hazel-eyed Burke Mountain Academy freshman on a track - literally - to making the U.S. Junior Olympic Luge team.
Potter, her brown hair drawn back into a bouncing ponytail, sat on a chair at BMA's weight room, Monday night, and recounted how she has become only the second Vermont teen-ager to be picked for the Junior Olympic Luge Development program.
Three years ago she took a field trip with her mother to Lake Placid, site of the 1976 winter Olympics. While there, she received a brochure about clinics that would be held that summer up and down the east coast as part of the Olympic Luge development program.
The clinics were set up as a way of fostering interest among youth for the sport, but also for finding prospective lugers.
In her first trip to Burlington that summer, she participated in the road racing but didn't qualify.
She didn't give up, though, and returned the next year and made it, a testament to why Kelly's Lake Placid coaches believe she has what it takes to go far.
Through a series of hurdles that included tests and intensive training sessions, the crowd of 75 first-round participants dropped to 32, and then 16. Kelly found out this spring that she was one of those select 16.
She's now a trainee who will compete for the first time this winter in a quest to qualify for the Junior Candidate Program next year. If she finishes in the top four in racing in Utah this winter, she'll have a good chance of that.
If she makes it that far, more intensive training will ensue and more racing that could lead to a spot on the Junior National team, the final step before being named to the Olympic Luge Team.
It sounds like a lot to overcome, but not out of the realm of possibility for the spunky girl who has emersed herself in the physical training and mental preparation of a dedicated athlete.
At 14 years old she knows the physiological name of the muscles in the back and whips through a littany of strength training programs she has to do in order get into shape. Not necessarily the typical jargon of a teen-age girl, but Kelly's not a typical teen-age girl.
Consider: quot;I really like the speed. I'm a competitive person and I just like trying to be better than everyone else.quot;
Kelly is sincere in her effort at becoming a serious luge athlete, though.
This summer she enrolled at BMA, the first student at the nationally-recognized ski academy who isn't a nordic or alpine competitor.
According to Jerri, the school was high on Kelly doing her athletic training with them, backed up by a scholarship BMA offered which was crucial if the former Coventry family was going to move south.
Originally, Kelly was to start at Lyndon Institute, but when the Potters realized BMA wanted Kelly as a student, they went before the Lyndon School Board and asked for its permission.
The board agreed and the per-student tuition rate was transferred to BMA. Jerri said she has had to pay a small amount to round out the tuition costs, but agrees it's a small sacrifice to allow her daughter to get the best athletic training around.
quot;The staff up here are amazing,quot; Jerri said about BMA. quot;If nothing else comes out of her luge career, just getting an education here will be worth it.quot;
Kelly agreed, pointing out that, quot;Lake Placid gives you a real homey feeling and I guess I feel the same way about here.quot;
quot;I really like it because if I went to LI or anywhere else, I'd have to do extra to make up for my training, but here it's worked right into the schedule.quot;
That schedule includes a 6:30 a.m. start with agility training, followed by academics at eight. After lunch and sports practice, they're back at it with strength training.
The hardest part for her, Kelly said, is quot;The stamina and concentration to keep pushing myself and not get frustrated.quot;
Kelly's luge training is done in sessions over the winter at Lake Placid, visits that start in December and include races in February that will be used eventually to decide if she makes the Junior Candidate team.
The cost of Kelly's visits to New York are paid for, but not equipment. Jerri estimates that this year it will cost them roughly $5,000 for Kelly to participate, a figure the Potters hope to raise through personal and corporate sponsorships, of which she has four so far.
Modestly, Kelly says she feels she is good enough to do well in the coming years, perhaps good enough for the Olympics.
quot;I think I'm pretty good. People ask me all the time if I'm good, but I don't know how to judge myself. My coach said I would probably place in the top three,quot; she said.
Mom's take on it is a combination of consternation and elation.
quot;It's exciting as a parent. The first time I saw her coming down a full track I was horrified,quot; Jerri said. quot;This will open doors for her; chances for travel and for meeting a lot of different people. If this is something she loves and pursues, I'll support it.quot;
Kelly was clear about her goals.
quot;I really like this sport and want to go far,quot; she said, and when her mother asked her how far, she responded, quot;To the Olympics. Any Olympics, I don't care which one.quot;
Jerri described her daughter this way: quot;She's a very determined young woman. Everything is always 110 percent.quot;
In describing how she felt watching her daughter as she comes tearing down the track at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, Jerri said, quot;The best thing about it is that it's only 40 seconds. A mother can hold her breath for 40 seconds and then it's over.quot;
With Kelly's success, though, Jerri stands to endure a breathless future, something the proud mother doesn't appear too concerned about.