Local Triathlete Preparing For Worlds

CHERYL BURNS

A triathlon is a challenging race consisting of a 750-meter open-water swim, 20-kilometer draft-legal cycle and 5-kilometer run. It’s a sport that attracts only the most highly driven and motivated. It takes relentless commitment, hard work and discipline.

Jamestown triathlete Cheryl Burns, a 57-year-old Cassadaga Valley Central School agriculture science teacher is one of the best in the country. After winning three national age-group titles in the International Triathlon Union (ITU), she’s gearing up to join Team USA at the World Grand Final in Queensland, Australia.

As early as age 9, Burns was highly competitive and self-driven. She grew up in an emotionally distant family with very little encouragement. One of nine children, she had no choice than to be her own, best influence.

“I chose a path of positivity from a young age and I never gave up or gave in,” she said.

Her passion for sports and fierce competitive nature was developed and fine-tuned into adulthood.

“I like to win at everything, from Monopoly to pulling weeds. I can turn anything into competition; like tying grapes, folding laundry, moving irrigation, picking apples. … I crave competition.”

When an achiever like Burns looks for fitness adventure, triathlon naturally appeals to her.

“Every single race is different,” she said. “Anything can happen. I love to experience it as it unfolds.”

After qualifying at nationals in 2014, she began training for the world competition. But soon after, she suffered a debilitating ankle injury that could have ended her athletic career. The next few years, Burns worked tirelessly through excruciating pain to defy the odds and make a triumphant return in 2017 to secure her third national title. This time, she was determined to take her place on Team USA.

Among her many supporters, Mike Donner, manager of Jamestown Cycle Shop, has been an invaluable resource for Burns’ quest for the world title.

“Cheryl came to me one day when she found out her (very expensive) Trek Tri bike wasn’t legal for the race. Realizing how much this trip would cost, I knew a new competitive bike wouldn’t be in the budget. So I decided that we would purchase a Trek Madone 9.0 race ready bike for her to train on and take with her to Australia.”

Donner also did an exhaustive search of all trek dealers to find a bike shop just minutes from the course. Not only did he arrange for the bike to be shipped to (and from) Australia, Donnor said “the (Australian) shop mechanics volunteered to help her out during the competition as well.”

When Burns isn’t training, she is busy tending her own animal refuge. Her home is a 20-acre haven for alpacas, emus and a variety of wildlife. As a certified wildlife rehabilitator, she rescues and restores animals to health. She’s also a personal trainer.

“I love to be strong and stay strong. I like to be a good role model for others. If I’m strong and fit, I feel like I can help others reach their goals.”

Anticipating her upcoming trip, Burns says, “I’m back to lifting like I did in my thirties and I’m swimming better than ever. I’m biking strong, working on my run and I’m going to Australia!”

Her traveling support team includes husband Pat, sister Mary Jo Travis, swimming coach Jan Kagarice, friends Wes and Chris Knisley and their son, Matt Loewenheim. The group of seven will travel across the globe to watch Burns compete — one of 5,000 athletes representing 46 countries – on Sept 12.

To help support Burns in her quest for the world title, her students have set up a gofundme page at www.gofundme.com/send-burns-to-championship. Burns is also the author and illustrator of a children’s book promoting environmental awareness and recycling. She will hold a book signing at the Jamestown Cycle Shop on July 7 to help raise funds.

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