As a 14-year-old watching the 2014 Winter Olympics on television with her family, Camille Johnson's first thought when she saw the luge competition was that it looked like a blast.
While sliding down a frozen track on a futuristic-looking sled undoubtedly looked thrilling, the chances that Johnson — a volleyball player from Columbia — would actually get to try luging herself seemed about as likely as her cross country skiing on the moon.
"It was such a different sport, I had never really heard of it," said Johnson, who is beginning her junior year at Wilde Lake High School. "I always get that: 'what's luge?'"
The exotic nature of the sport fueled Johnson's intrigue, and her parents went online to see what opportunities there were for interested young athletes.
As it turned out, there was a USA Luge Slider Search coming to nearby Frederick, and Johnson's path to Lake Placid had begun.
Because there are only two actual luge tracks in America — one in Park City, Utah, and one in Lake Placid, NY — the Slider Search in Frederick was fairly simplified.
"For the first three or four minutes they size you up for a (wheeled trainer) sled and you lay back on it and they tell you how to steer. Then they put cones out and you just roll down" a closed street, said Johnson, who was within a few months of exceeding the age cutoff at the time in May of 2014.
Camille's father, Ken — a physical therapist and manager of outpatient rehabilitation for Johns Hopkins Hospital — had become familiar with the Slider Search when he was working with some athletes in Lake Placid several years ago. Her mother, Kellie, works for Howard County Public Schools as a Speech Language Pathologist at Veteran's Elementary in Ellicott City.
"The Slider Search has covered most of the nation. People come from all over. The majority of the current Olympic team was all identified through the Slider Search," Ken Johnson said. "They're trying to identify the talent when they're young. It's the basic building blocks of the physical abilities, and also their temperament and the ability to deal with stress and learning."
Camille Johnson is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Summer Britcher, who was born in Baltimore and competed in the luge in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Camille's younger brother Grayton also attended the Slider Search, but was three weeks too young at the time so he participated in the 2015 Slider Search.
"After all the Slider Searches they come together as coaches to decide on the top 20 in each age group (from a pool of around 700). I was in the older age group and 20 of us got selected to go up to Lake Placid for a week in February of this year, when we went down on ice for the first time," said Johnson, who has also participated in basketball, ballet and marching band. "I was kind of expecting the possibility of making the (developmental) team because I'm not experienced ... When I saw my name on the (C team) list I said 'Oh my gosh, this is awesome!'"
At almost six-feet tall, Johnson has the prototypical body type to make a successful luger. The natural athleticism and coordination that has helped make her a standout volleyball player has also contributed to her success.
"If you make a quick, sudden, jerky motion on the sled at 70 or 80 miles-per-hour, that can have significant consequences for you getting down the track safely," Ken Johnson said. "Watching Camille's movement pattern, she has a lot of fluidity and grace in her movement."
Having only experienced luge through the training sled and watching it on television, finally getting on the Olympic track at Lake Placid was an exhilarating moment for Camille.
"It was surreal. You're sitting there on the ice and it's kind of scary. I knew how to steer, and we didn't start from the top of the track so we weren't going as fast, but I knew what to do," she said. "On the TV it looks like they're not going that fast but when you're going from (the top) you're going like 80 miles per hour down the track."
As part of the USA Luge Junior National C team, which is just below the team that competes internationally, Camille spent two weeks in February training on the Olympic track. She returned in June for offseason training, then she'll go to Canada during the holidays and to Park City after Christmas for races, which culminate with the Junior National Championships in March.
For now, Johnson's commitment to luge hasn't interfered with Wilde Lake volleyball outside of missing a rare practice and having to forego the club season.
"I had to miss a practice, so I told (Wilde Lake coach Caitlin Williams)," Camille Johnson said. "She was supportive of me and she said, 'That's so cool!'"
Down the road, though, she has some big decisions to make.
"I have two paths. With luge I probably won't be able to go to college (immediately after high school) because I'll be up in New York training most of the year," she said. "It's luge or volleyball and it's kind of hard to decide."
As one of only about 20 girls in the nation right now training at this level, Johnson also has a rare opportunity that could culminate with an appearance in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
To put herself in the best position possible to succeed, she has regularly been training at Shropshire Sports Training in Columbia, building core strength, postural stability and upper body strength.
"Most of the slide is determined by the start, so you need to have a really explosive start," Ken Johnson said. "Flexibility in the hips and strength in the upper body is critical."
And because luge can cost up to $10,000 per year, Junior National team members also rely on the support of their community.
"Once you make the Olympic level, the team then picks it up at a different level of sponsorship," Ken Johnson said. "We're not quite at that level."
To support Camille Johnson in her quest to represent the USA as a member of the national luge team, go to her web site, redwhiteandluge.com.