Forget “Just Do It,” Just Float

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Cover Image
By Claire Zhu

Coach: Laurie Burke

Height: 5’8”

Eye color: Hazel

Hair color: Dark brown

Birthday: 7/29/1980

Time at Stuyvesant: Four years

1. When and why did you start running?

I probably started running as a little kid. This might sound strange, but the first thing I remember that motivated me to run a lot, or run far, was big open fields. Anytime I’d be in the car, like if we were driving to Vermont, I’d see a big open farm field, and I’d just want to dash across it. And in elementary school, they had an event called Pony Express, which was a little soccer field that you had to run around in. I, for some reason, got it in my head that I wanted to beat everybody, including all the boys, but I think I was only like the fourth to fastest.

2. Who was your inspiration growing up?

I think I’m a student of people, and I think I’m still growing up. So I tend to watch the parts of people that I’m impressed with and then kind of patchwork them together to try to better myself. Somebody that I look up to is Michelle Smith, who was on my college team. When I watched her in relation to other really talented runners whom I got a chance to run with, the thing that stood out to me about her was that it was always a game to her; she thought about the most high profile race—the most hardcore, high-stakes workout—as a challenge and game. She made our sport about play all the time, and I think it helped me not make our sport more serious than it needs to be by seeing how gutsy she could be or how crazy the race could get. She never let the politics or the worries of the sport distract her. I think she was such a fierce competitor because it was always just about having fun and throwing down, so I try to emulate that when I catch myself slipping into the worry that comes with racing, competition, and the ups and downs of our sport.

3. What was your favorite event?

That’s hard. I like the crazy ones. Steeplechase was not allowed for females when I was in high school (it started when I was in college), but I bet I would’ve wanted to try it. So that’s hard to say. I liked some of those middle distance races where the distance is long enough that people call it a distance race, but we all know that it’s really a sprint—so like the 400 hurdles and the 800, but I think I loved relays. I’ll run any distance if I get to do it with teammates.

4. What achievement are you most proud of?

I don’t know if I can pinpoint one thing. I guess as somebody who has always been involved in some kind of teaching or coaching, I think that it’s a reciprocal process. I think of learning as a relationship-culture with my students and athletes versus a dominant-culture where I’m the “holder of knowledge” or know-it-all who is supposed to bestow knowledge onto my students or my athletes. Instead, I like being able to sit alongside the people that I’m either studying or training with and figure out how to be in and how to tackle different situations, such as being a track athlete in a pandemic, for example. So that’s probably something I’m proud of because I think I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to be some sort of all-knowing teacher or coach.

5. When did you decide to run in college and what was competitive running like in college?

I don’t remember exactly when I decided, but I remember thinking that I just had so much fun with my teammates and that they were such a family to me in high school that I had to; I didn’t want this to end. I think I also wanted to see what my body was going to be capable of because I didn’t really have one coach in high school; I had lots of different coaches. It was a little bit messy, so I thought: “Oh, if I have a college coach, how could I run?” It was very humbling at the beginning. Very humbling. There were some definite benefits to it and there were some things that were disappointing to me. I remember meeting teammates who were only running for the money because they needed the money to be able to go to college. I came from some privilege where if I didn’t keep that scholarship, I wasn’t going to be taken away from the school. I knew intellectually that people didn’t always have a ton of resources or the same resources that I had to be able to go to college, but it really opened my eyes to the fact that there are some people who are doing this sport not because they love it but because it’s their ticket to an education. I think it made me think about my responsibility in the world a little bit more.

6. What made you decide to start coaching? How long have you been coaching?

To be very honest, I didn’t know much about coaching. I had the mentality that if you’re a runner, you can just turn around and coach people. I didn’t realize how much planning, thinking, and studying it takes to really be a high-quality coach or to give high-quality athletes what they need. Initially, I told myself, “I need an excuse to go outside after work each day because my bosses would have these boring meetings at the end of the day.” So I thought, “Maybe if I coach, I can go out and play.” Then, I got there and I realized the hard work it was, and I was kind of inspired by the fact that it wasn’t like glorified babysitting, but that it was actually a really serious kind of intellectual challenge. The first year, the team had a girl who ended up winning the New York State Championships at the 800-meter run, so I had to get better at coaching fast. I started coaching some athletes in Florida in 2003.

7. What’s your favorite thing about running?

My favorite thing about running is the people who have changed my life for the good or shared this crazy world with me.

8. Do you have any specific running goals that you’re looking to achieve?

I think that my goal is to run on trails as much as possible and to get off roads, which I know is tricky right now. I just want to be able to be a very old lady who’s able to run, and I’m trying to preserve my knees. Right now, it’s more about the feeling than the time. There have been times where I remember having an index card above my bed that said “57.6 for the 400” because it was the school record, and I really wanted to hit it. As a result, I haven’t been super time-oriented lately. I just don’t want to feel achy, and during this very odd time, even when we’re healthy, I think a lot of us are feeling very sluggish because our days are so strange and there are some stressors that we might not even be aware of that are taxing on us. I’ve just been trying to feel really good; that’s been my big goal—even if it means running very slowly.

9. What is your advice to somebody who wants to start running?

If you want to start running, just try to have a super open mind. There are pictures in magazines of all these ideas of what running is supposed to look or be like or the size runners are supposed to be; you can disrupt all of that hogwash. I know girls who are barely five feet who are incredible hurdlers, and I know folks who don’t have the gait of a gazelle but could kick my butt even when I’m training as hard as possible. I think you have to be patient with your body and just try to start somewhere—even if it’s just running for five minutes and increasing it a little bit each week. Just open up your mind to the fact that it could be really anything—that it doesn’t have to be a marathon, that it doesn’t have to be on a track team, that it’s a sport that’s open for all. We don’t make cuts. At least I don’t.

Drink of Choice: Watermelon with mint, lemon, and coconut water poured over ice

Favorite food: Nachos

Motto to live by: Just float

Fun fact: I once had to go to flying school to learn how to fly because I had to be the wicked witch in a play.