The Abington Heights senior won gold in the 1,600-meter run at the PIAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University on Saturday.
Here is more from Burke’s interview:
Other sport you play: Cross country
Three people you’d like to have dinner with: (Olympic runner) Matt Centrowitz, my grandparents and Kobe Bryant.
Favorite food: Barbecue chicken
Athletes you admire: Locally, I definitely admire my brother (Sean). When I was younger, he was one who I really looked up to. With him being a distance runner, I tried to emulate my form and everything after him. And Matt Centrowitz, who was a gold medalist in the 1,500 at the Rio Olympics.
Last year you didn’t even make the 1,600-meter final and finished 13th overall. How’d you make that jump to becoming a state champion a year later? Like you said, 13th was a tough spot. That’s the first one not to make the final. It definitely stung and the feeling stuck with me for a bit. I just tried to use that as a motivator going into my summer training. Unfortunately, I got hurt. I had a hip injury that kind of set me back a bit in the summer. So, I just kind of tried to stay patient and trust the entire process, look at my entire senior season as a whole. I got healthy and ran pretty well for cross country, but couldn’t quite medal at states. I faded down the stretch of that race. And indoor (track) I was trying to again grab the state medal, but I got sick right before states so that didn’t really work. So, I knew this was going to be my last opportunity to try to finish strong, go out on a high note. The race wasn’t particularly as strong I would say as in years past. There wasn’t anybody who was a clear favorite, so I knew it was wide open and I would have just as much of a shot as anybody. The race played out to my strengths with it going out so slow.
How much did experience play a role in your state title? Last year, even though I didn’t make the final it was nice just to get a feel for how everything goes, know how the prelims are going to work. So, that definitely paid off. I was a bit more comfortable this year. I knew what I had to do to make the final. So, I just had to be patient, make sure I got one of those top-four spots as the automatic qualifier. And then for finals I didn’t have a ton of experience because I didn’t make it last year, but I knew being a senior I just had general experience compared to a lot of the other guys in the field and that paid off.
Do you usually rely on the kick in the 1,600-meter run or was that a strategy you took into the final? During my time in high school, I’ve known that I’ve had a decent kick. I didn’t know how the race was going to play out. There have been finals where it goes out really quick. Sometimes it goes out really slow. And it just happened to go out slow this year. So, I knew that from leagues and districts this year I was able to close real hard last lap. So, I knew that I just had to keep myself close to really have a shot. Then a couple guys just gradually faded off and then there was about three of us with 200 (meters) to go. So, I just had to wait for the right time and go for it.
How did you feel when you were crossing that finish line and getting that gold? It was an exhilarating experience. I hadn’t gotten a medal in any other sport, so to have the first one be a gold in my last high school race ever it was just a culmination of four years of hard work and I just let it out in that moment.
With the basketball team also winning a state championship, this year has been pretty good for your school. It’s been a very special experience with the team winning. The community’s support is great. I remember being at that game and thinking, ‘Wow, this is awesome. This is really special.’ And to be able to come back yesterday and add another title for our class, it’s really cool.
What’s the support been like? Has anyone reached out to you? A lot of my classmates, a lot of parents, friends congratulated me. I know Jackson Danzig was the first one to congratulate me on my Snapchat yesterday. So, it’s been real cool to have all that support.
How do you feel about your career at Abington Heights? I’m definitely happy with it. You look back as a freshman I was not anything special. There are some guys in the state where they come in and they’re right at the top from the start, but I’ve had to work my way up gradually year by year and then to finish it off with a state title. I’m very proud of how everything’s gone. I’m definitely happy with it. Even with all the successes and failures, it makes it worth it.
How did you get into running in general? My brother and sister, Sean and Jen, they ran and I would always go to their meets and all that. I enjoyed watching it, but actually running myself never really appealed to me. But my parents, brother and sister said just try it. See what happens. So, eighth grade I joined the cross country team and I actually liked it a lot. So, I stuck with it and then freshman year I ended up running all three seasons with indoor, outdoor and cross (country). I just continued to grow all four years and finished it off yesterday.
Why did you choose to go to Lehigh University upon graduation? I looked at some different schools and I wanted to have the right fit academically and athletically. All my other siblings have gone to Lehigh, so at first I really didn’t want to go to Lehigh and make it seem like the only reason I was going there was because they went there. But the more I looked into it, the more it was just the right fit. I really liked the guys on the team. The coach was great, and academically it was a really good fit. They have a strong computer science program, which is what I want to go into.
Why computer science? I’ve always kind of liked the more mathematic side of things. I’ve liked working with numbers. It was actually my math teacher my sophomore year. She’s also our computer science teacher. She just wanted me to try it out. She thought I’d be good with it. And I liked it so I just stuck with it.
What are you watching on TV? General sports stuff, and I like the show Impractical Jokers.
What’s your favorite movie? Back to the Future
What’s the last movie you saw? Black Panther