Finding a supremely focused athlete is not all that difficult. Finding one that possesses that kind of single-mindedness, and is still in grade eight, now that's much more of a rarity.
Nicholas Burke has always approached his athletics in a somewhat unique manner, even as the groundwork was laid for what would be an outstanding middle school career in both basketball and track and field, with a dabble of volleyball on the side.
"I did karate for eight years when I was young," noted the grade eight student at Northeastern Public School. "The discipline and focus that I learned in karate, how to control myself under pressure, it taught me how to become a better person."
"And athletically, it probably helped my hand-eye coordination." This type of self-assessment, the kind that demonstrates a maturity beyond his years, is not new to Burke. It is part and parcel of his incredible desire to improve, to ensure he has pushed himself to the limits of his athleticism.
"It's what I like about track - what I put in is what I get out," he said. "It's how hard I train. Last year, in basketball, I didn't think I pushed myself as far as I could have, because we were such a good team."
Yet it is not only his own teammates that Burke can appreciate, also taking stock of those who have come before him. Such was the case as he prepared for the Rainbow Elementary Track & Field Championships.
"With Lucas (Mrozewski) running his amazing 400m last year, I knew that it was going to be hard to reach," said Burke. "The grade eights last year set the bar high, but that pushed me to be better."
While he could not establish a new city standard, Burke did claim gold in both the 400m and the pentathlon, a solid indication of his athletic versatility. "Based on my skill set, I enjoy the high jump the most," he admitted. "I find that the high jump, for me, is more of a relaxed sport."
"I train for it, but I don't train with it as my main focus." In that sense, Burke is quick to note that he must remain vigilant not to over-do it, to the point of counter productivity. "There was a basketball tournament in Toronto," noted the 14 year old who also played with the Sudbury Jam, as well as leading his school team.
"Me and a couple of buddies were working for hours and hours. Sometimes you can get too focused. You have to remember it's still a game. In sports, it's as much about becoming a better person, and not just a better athlete."
It's clear that Burke has absorbed many of the teaching of his coaching mentor at Northeastern, Dale Beausoleil. "He's got a different approach to different sports, but he's very good at all of them," said Burke. "He wants to win, and he will tell you the truth."
In September, Burke will begin his high school career at Lasalle Secondary, the New Sudbury school that has seen more than its fair share of basketball and track and field greats. These days, he's having trouble containing his excitement for this next step in his development.
"I want to see how far I can go in my sports," he said. "To see how far I can push myself, how good I can be by the end of high school." At this point, he sees no reason to shelve one or the other of his two primary sporting endeavours, especially with something to offer on both fronts.
"I think my best quality as a basketball player is my athleticism, because that mixes in with track too. Defense is also a strong suit. I might not score a lot of baskets, but I can go in and lock down their best shooter."
"They are two sports that complement each other so well," Burke continued. "My quickness, in my first step, from track, really helps me in basketball." And when the tables are turned, and spring arrives, Burke will head off in search of a midget boys 400 metre gold medal.
"I need to work on my third leg," he said. "If I'm in the lead, I need to hold on to it. If I'm behind, I need to make up ground. Ultimately, I can be better in everything." The focus and mindset to realize that, is ever present with Nicholas Burke.
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