The Post-Journal

I Felt So Strong Out There

Jamestown Triathlete Stands Out In Her Age Group ‘Down Under,’ Finishes 4th In The World, 1st Among US Team Members


Cheryl Burns in Australia.
Cheryl Burns, a Jamestown resident and a teacher at Cassadaga Valley Central School, poses for a photo after representing Team USA at the World Grand Final Age-Group Triathlon in Queensland, Australia. Submitted photo.

To Cheryl Burns, age is merely a number. She learned that from her grandmother, Tillie Guggemos, years ago.

“(She would tell me to) keep moving, no matter what,” Burns said. “Get outside daily, no matter what. Strengthen daily, eat healthy, set a goal and move toward it.”

A dutiful granddaughter, Burns has heeded that advice her entire life, parlaying her passion for sports and her competitive nature into a fine-tuned athlete.

Even at 57.

So imagine her joy on Thursday when the Jamestown resident, representing Team USA at the World Grand Final Age-Group Triathlon in Queensland, Australia, placed fourth in the world and first in the United States in the women’s 55-59 age group.

Cheryl Burns.
Cheryl Burns of Jamestown had plenty to smile about after her performance at the World Grand Final triathlon this week. Submitted photo.

Let those numbers sink in for a minute.

In an event that included a .75-kilometer swim, a 20-kilometer bike and a 5-kilometer run, Burns placed fourth in the WORLD and first in the UNITED STATES in the women’s 55-59 age group.

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Her time of 1 hour, 11 minutes, 44 seconds was good enough for 654th place out of 1,522 competitors, 138th out of 657 females and fourth out of 66 females in her age group.

“I expected podium, worked for first, but fell nine seconds off third and one minute off champion,” she wrote in a Facebook message from Australia on Thursday afternoon. “I felt so strong out there and, as I reflect, I didn’t play the swim effectively. I got myself caught up too much. There was a lot of bumping, and even people smacking and grabbing at your feet. You just keep swimming. Hard.”

Pushing pedal to the metal is all Burns knows anyway.

After qualifying at nationals in 2014, she began training for the world competition, but a debilitating ankle injury nearly ended her athletic career. True to her nature, 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.

“I used the Training Peaks schedule that Team USA provided and rarely moved off the workouts,” she said. “This meant two to four hours a day of training. I couldn’t believe how my body was responding, getting into the best competitive shape I have been in for over five years. The ankle injury in 2014 was extensive, but I had a wonderful doc that said, ‘Don’t worry, we will have you running again. Ankles are made to move.’

“It’s the first time in a few injuries I wasn’t told I would never run again. The ankle set me back, but I have had no issues.”

The national team was the beneficiary.

“I am happy I pulled off first for Team USA, because some of these ladies beat me at nationals,” she said. “I battled the run with (one of the Team USA triathletes). She and I traded leads, but with approximately 150 meters (to go), I took off, expecting her to jump as well. She had nothing left. I talked to her after and thanked her for the great pace. She hugged me.”

There are plenty of folks here locally who would also love to give Burns a warm, congratulatory embrace upon her return, including family, friends, her coaches and the good people at the Cycle Shop in Jamestown, including manager Mike Donner, who provided her with a Trek Madone 9.0 race-ready bike for her to train on and to take with her to Australia.

“I often wondered about why I never quite made it to worlds in the past, but I no longer question the timing,” Burns said. “I used to do everything on my own, never really socializing, even training secretively, and competing as a loner. I really think the wonderful family I am married into (her husband, Pat, was among a group of people who joined her on the trip) has a lot to do with bringing me out of that shell and learning to trust.”

She also received some perspective from another source.

“My young nephew and I were out one day — he was running, me biking alongside due to injury — and he said something so wise. (He said), ‘Your body is a temple and you use your God-given talents to help others.’ That really hit me, because I was always told, ‘Don’t run, girls aren’t made to run.’ From then on, I took his wise, young words and really threw myself fully into this ideal. I am so happy helping others get stronger and healthier.”

So what’s next for the agriculture science teacher at Cassadaga Valley Central School, who is also a certified wildlife rehabilitator and a personal trainer?

Most immediately, it is sharing her experiences with her students and motivating them to reach for the stars.

“From rain forests, to the Great Barrier Reef, to keeping your head on straight, working as hard as you can,” she said. “Put your heart and soul into everything you do, whether you like it or not. There are big goals, places to see, and people to surround you and help you get there.”

Competitively, Burns plans to “continue getting into better shape.”

“I told Pat (her husband) I needed three to six months to really knock it out of the park,” she said. “I had to really balance my need to push my training with patience, to hold back to prevent injury. That’s a tough line always.”

Ultimately, Burns wants to return to nationals next year. She also has another athletic goal.

“I have been thinking about trying out for the Senior Olympic basketball team,” she said.

Is anyone who knows Cheryl Burns the least bit surprised?

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