Make sure to yell "Fire Up Chips!" when watching Olympic speedskating in South Korea, for among the athletic trainers keeping the skaters in top shape is 2015 Central Michigan University athletic training graduate Jon Burke.
He didn't just skate into this role. When he was looking for a graduate assistantship in sports medicine in 2016, one of his faculty mentors, Blaine Long, told him of an opening on the University of Utah's football team. He arrived for the interview but instead was interviewed for a new assistantship for U.S. speedskating.
"I've always liked being on the front line of things." — Jon Burke
Utah offered him the position, and he moved to Salt Lake City.
"Years ago, if you would have told me that I would be doing this, I would have scoffed at the idea. Part of me still doesn't feel it's real."
In South Korea
At the Olympics, Burke will apply all of the skills he has learned thus far.
"A lot of what we focus on at the Olympics speedskating level is injury prevention," he said. "We identify weaknesses and compensations that athletes may have and address them to reduce the risk of injury. As elite athletes, it is important to keep them in optimal performance.
"We also provide acute injury care if a skater falls. These athletes can get up to speeds of 35 mph. When a fall happens at that speed, a lot can go wrong. That is why we cover every practice, from ice sessions to lighter-load days such as bike rides."
"Years ago, if you would have told me that I would be doing this, I would have scoffed at the idea. Part of me still doesn't feel it's real." — Jon Burke
Road to the Olympics
Burke credits two of his professors in rehabilitation and medical sciences for helping him get to where he is today: Long and Kevin Miller in CMU's Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions. As an undergraduate, Burke did heatstroke research with Miller and ice therapy research with Long.
Working with Long, Burke co-authored a study with undergraduate Austin Herman that challenged the long-standard orthopedic injury treatment regimen of RICES — rest, ice compress, elevate and stabilize. Their study found that elevation combined with compression may not be necessary to manage acute injury. The study won several awards, grants and presentation opportunities for the two.
"They are both great professors," Burke said of Miller and Long. "I came to depend on them to give me good advice. If I could be a mentor to someone else like they were to me, that would be great."
The mentorship between Burke and Long exists to this day, Long said, and pointed to a U.S. speedskating patch Burke had sent him.
Long saw something special in Burke from the beginning. He made note of Burke's experience working as an emergency medical technician in the Detroit area, and he saw his high standards as a student.
"One of the things that he always did, no matter what class, was to be very analytical in what was being discussed — asking 'is this the best way,' or 'how does this work,' and trying to put theory into practice. He always went above and beyond."
His Central choice
When Burke looks back at his undergraduate days, he is reminded of why he chose CMU.
"It provided the large-university feel, but it was small enough that I felt I was going to a school where I could really focus on just my education without too much distraction."
He focused on sports medicine, "and as I got into it, I felt more and more a calling. I've always liked being on the front line of things, almost the grunt of the medicine world: always the first to arrive and the last to leave."
And he enjoyed the science and research.
"You realize that there's a bit of art to athletic training. There's not only one way to do something. You take the evidence-based best practices and incorporate that into your clinician-based best practices, and before you know it you are kind of creating your own identity in a way."
His life's journey reminds him of a quote he says he got from a "Calvin and Hobbes" comic: "Sometimes you don't realize where you are headed in life until you arrive."
"That's how I've been feeling for the past few years of my life," he said.