By Doug Williams | June 19, 2013, 4:30 p.m. (ET)
Campers and staff gather for a group photo on the first day of Julia Clukey's Camp for Girls in Readfield, Maine in June 2013.

The athletes from “Cupcake Land” proudly marched behind their flag last year in an Olympic-style opening ceremony at Julia Clukey’s Camp for Girls in Readfield, Maine.

They took part in the parade of nations in an Olympic Day event that included young participants from nations no one had heard of before (or since).

“It was great,” said Clukey, the 2012 USA Luge national women’s champion and a 2010 Olympian in Vancouver. “We had about 90 campers and we broke them (up into teams) the day before, and they all got to name their team, pick their motto and design their flag, so no one was a traditional country. They were all made up, from Cupcake Land to words you couldn’t even pronounce."

After the ceremony, the girls went off to participate in some traditional Olympic-style competition (foot races) and events not featured in any Olympiad (such as a sack race).

For Clukey, the Olympic Day festivities were a perfect complement to the rest of the two-week non-sports camp that is tailored to girls from fourth through eighth grades at Maranacook Lake near Augusta. Clukey — who hopes to compete in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in February — gets the girls outside for hiking, swimming, kayaking, arts and various games, while also teaching lessons about strength, self-confidence, healthy lifestyles and goal setting.

Julia Clukey posing with campers at the the inaugural Julia Clukey's
Camp for Girls in 2012

“We talk a lot about what the Olympics mean as far as participation, good sportsmanship and those types of things,” she said.

In 2012, the event at Clukey’s camp was one of 632 Olympic Day events held across the nation. When her campers experience another Olympic Day this Friday, it will be one of a record 715 such events held across the United States from June 21 through June 30.

This week, Clukey’s campers will have the same type of opening ceremony, but they will add a few more elements to the day, including some new events to honor the upcoming Olympic Winter Games, such as a biathlon — Clukey’s twist on that sport features running and archery — and perhaps egg-carrying.

Because Clukey, 28, is from Maine and likes to speak at local schools and other events, many of the girls in her area already are familiar with her Olympic story and the Games in general. After taking part in previous Olympic Day events at Lake Placid, N.Y., Clukey thought adding an Olympic Day element to her camp in Maine was perfect when she started it in 2012.

The timing of her camp couldn’t be any better as it not only ties in with Olympic Day but also with the anniversary of Title IX, the federal legislation which opened the doors for girls and women in sports back on June 23, 1972.

The camp, and its Olympic Day element, also might lead to a few young girls from Maine having a rooting interest in a certain luger at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games.

“I hope we’re going to have lots of little girls in front of the TV this winter,” she said, laughing.

* * *

Olympic Day is officially June 23, the date in 1894 on which Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, met with others in Paris to start the quest for the rebirth of the Games two years later in Athens.

The International Olympic Committee introduced Olympic Day in 1948, and it has been celebrated around the world ever since.

Celebrations in the United States were limited in scope until 2010, when the U.S. Olympic Committee expanded Olympic Day events in support of the U.S. bid to land the 2016 Games for Chicago, said Keith Bryant, director of the USOC’s Communications Division in Colorado Springs.

That year, there were 330 Olympic Day events. In 2011 it was 376. Now that number has almost doubled.

The USOC's 2013 Olympic Day video features ice hockey player Julie Chu, figure skaters Caydee
Denney and John Coughlin, Paralympic alpine skier Ralph Green and bobsledder Curt Tomasevicz.

Olympic Day events are sometimes held in conjunction with small camps such as Clukey’s, but most often by the larger multi-sport organizations that partner with the USOC, such as the YMCA and YWCA, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Jewish Community Centers Association, National Recreation and Parks Association, the military and also National Governing Bodies, such as USA Rugby and USA Triathlon. Events have ranged in scope from 25 participants to 10,000. To find an Olympic Day event to attend, click here.

“The goal is really to promote the spirit of Olympism and the values of respect, excellence, fair play, sportsmanship, those kind of things,” Bryant said. “We try to get U.S. Olympians, Paralympians and hopefuls to as many events as we can so they can inspire Americans of all ages with their personal stories and also encourage people to live active, healthy lifestyles."

If an Olympic or Paralympic athlete isn’t available to participate, each event can also show a USOC Olympic Day video that features a variety of athletes. This year’s video includes several Sochi hopefuls including: women’s ice hockey team captain and Olympian, Julie Chu, figure skaters Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, Paralympic alpine skier Ralph Green and Olympic bobsledder Curt Tomasevicz.

Organizations can register to host an event by going through the USOC website from March through late May, when registration closes. The USOC provides each Olympic Day host with both a physical and virtual toolkit to organize the event, publicize it and execute it. Olympians and Paralympians, meanwhile, can also sign up to participate.

As Clukey noted, she’s eager to spread the word and promote the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“They will always be a part of my life,” she said.

Although the official Olympic Day is June 23, the June 21-30 window provides some flexibility for organizations. Worldwide, Bryant estimates about 150 National Olympic Committees will celebrate in some way with Olympic Day events.

In the United States, it’s a chance for the USOC to interact with every constituent group in the U.S. Olympic Movement — the multi-sport organizations, the National Governing Bodies, Olympic and Paralympic athletes past and present and the public, from old to young.

“It’s a nice thing we have annually to keep the spirit of the Olympic Movement going year to year, especially in off years when we don’t have a Games, like this year,” Bryant said.

There is no off year for the Olympic Movement in either Cupcake Land or at Clukey’s camp in Maine, however.

After all, this Friday, some young girl is going to win a gold medal in archery-biathlon.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Doug Williams is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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