The Post-Journal

Burns Shines Again On Big Stage

Cheryl Burns is pictured with one of her emus.
Cheryl Burns is pictured with one of the emus at her Big Tree Road residence. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg.

BUSTI — The sign at the driveway’s entrance on Big Tree Road reads as follows: “EmuZing” wildlife; rehabilitation (nonprofit); donations accepted; and emus for sale.

For those wondering, an emu is the second-tallest living bird after the ostrich. Soft-feathered, brown and flightless, they have long necks and legs and can reach up to 6 feet, 3 inches in height.

I mention that because there are a handful of them on the property of Pat and Cheryl Burns, but on a recent Sunday morning I discovered that the emus aren’t the only ones reaching impressive heights. Fact is, Cheryl has been doing it for years.

Her most recent memorable accomplishment came this summer.

Once you enter the Burns’ home, take a seat at their kitchen “island” and listen to Cheryl reminisce about her latest adventure, it further confirms that the 62-year-old teacher at Cassadaga Valley Central School continues to place herself among the finest athletes in her age group, not only in the western Southern Tier, but also across the country.

For by virtue of her performance in July at the National Senior Olympic Games near Pittsburgh — as well as the efforts of her two teammates — Cheryl returned home with a silver medal in the triathlon relay.

“In early January, a man named Rodger Reddish contacted me in the National Senior Olympic Games list of potential teammates to compete in the triathlon relay,” Cheryl said. “Rodger, an avid biker from Colorado, had already selected a runner, Toni Miller, from Nevada.

“Both Roger and Toni are in their 70s and, knowing they would have to compete in the 60-69 age group because of me, still wanted me to swim for the team. Rodger confidently told me we had a medal in our future.”

Rodger turned out to be prophetic.

The trio, who were known as “Team Ruff,” completed the triathlon in 1 hour, 42 minutes, 38.17 seconds to come away with the silver medal in their division and seventh among all relays regardless of age. For the record, Cheryl’s time in the swim — 8:42.04 — was the fastest of all relay competitors.

What makes the new friends’ medal-winning accomplishment even more significant is the path they took to get there.

Rodger, who had major heart surgery when he was in eighth grade and suffered severe injuries in a bike accident years later, first heard about the National Senior Olympic Games when he was 68 and was immediately hooked, winning several medals along the way.

“When you see Rodger compete, he has a three-wheel recumbent bike, full leg brace and a nasal cannula with oxygen to help him regulate his breathing,” Cheryl said. “Rodger’s doctors have informed him that he is in much better shape than he was prior to training for the Games.”

Toni, meanwhile, has competed in several ultra marathons (more than 100 miles in length); has run in several 26.2-mile marathons and even qualified for Boston in 2013, the year that the bombings occurred. She wasn’t able to participate, however, because her husband had health issues.

That wasn’t her only hardship.

“Toni and her husband lost their home and everything that goes with it in the Nevada wildfires,” Cheryl said. “Toni has an amazing attitude, so positive and caring. Would it surprise you that her career choice was a nurse?”

Cheryl’s story is just as compelling.

A 1979 Forestville High School and a 1983 Fredonia State graduate, Cheryl’s athletic resume is impressive. In her 50 years of competition at all levels, she has, among other things, excelled in basketball, ultimately earning WNBA tryouts with the Washington Mystics and Detroit Shock; was Western New York’s Runner of the Year in 1994 and WNY’s top-ranked runner three years later; and continues to be a nationally qualified and ranked triathlete. The personal highlight in that latter endeavor was finishing fourth overall at the World Championships in 2018 in Australia.

And, yes, Cheryl’s experience in Pittsburgh a little more than two months ago holds special significance, too.

“(I) felt so humbled and so proud to have been a part of this team,” she said. “The excitement on Rodger and Toni’s faces reminded me of why we get out there and train so hard to compete.”

There appears to be no end in sight for the woman who refers to herself as “Brnz.”

That’s only fitting.

Because the competitiveness that has fueled her since she was a child, clearly still “burns” white hot.

“If you haven’t heard of the Senior Olympics, look it up,” Cheryl said. “Compete in any sport you can imagine when you are 50 years old, and go for it as long as you can.”

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.