Oskaloosa–Katie Burnett refuses to give up on her dream, and last Saturday morning in The Golden State, she saw the fruits of her labor pay off as she became a race walk national champion with a pair of records to boot.
Burnett, a 2011 graduate of William Penn with a degree in Biology, became a Statesmen in the spring of 2009 and began her race-walking career shortly thereafter. The competition was only beginning to gain steam at that point, but she quickly fell in love and was committed to being the best she could be.
A collegiate national title did not come while donning the navy and gold, but she left a permanent mark on the institution, earning six NAIA All-America race-walking awards (three each in the 3,000-meter indoor and 5,000-meter outdoor races). A pure athlete, Burnett was also a more-than-competent javelin thrower and placed third in the NAIA in that event as a senior. She still holds school records in both race walk distances and in the javelin.
“When I was at WPU, I didn’t know how far I’d be able to go with race walking,” Burnett said. “I’m thankful to have the coaches and staff I had who fully supported my endeavors. Being in Oskaloosa was fantastic as well because the community was always so positive when I would be out training.”
Her story could have ended there, with a mountain of intercollegiate accomplishments. That is not in the DNA of Katie Burnett however. She desired to do more, to push the limits of her body, and this past Saturday, in Santee, Calif., at the 2017 USATF National Championships, Burnett raced to two American records and became the 50-kilometer national champion in a time of four hours, 26 minutes, and 37 seconds (4:26:37), walking at a pace of eight minutes, 35 seconds per mile. For her efforts, she won a cash prize of $8,000!
Burnett topped U.S. marks for the 40K (3:31:04) and 50K distances, defeating Erin Taylor-Talcott, the previous national record-holder, by nearly three minutes. The previous 50K record was 4:33:23.
“Thinking of those who believe in me keeps me going on days when I have trouble motivating myself,” Burnett said. “To break an American record, you come to realize that every day is important. It’s the accumulation of all those individual efforts, each day of practice, that adds up to make such an achievement possible, especially for a 50k. To perform on race day is paramount and comes from believing fully in yourself, your abilities, and having full faith in the plan. Executing what you practice is when amazing things happen.”
The win qualifies Burnett for this year’s Pan Am Cup in Lima, Peru on May 13-14. Unfortunately, while women’s race-walking grows in popularity throughout the world, the Olympics and World Championships still only offer a 20K competition. The women’s 50K did finally earn eligibility for a world record last November, and Burnett’s staggering performance currently ranks sixth all-time and is the second-fastest time this year.
The race-walking community continues to push for the women’s 50K to be added to meet schedules at track and field’s major showcases, but for now Burnett will push herself at both the 20K and 50K distances in hopes of becoming not just a national champion, but Olympic champion someday.
“I feel that the fitness and mentality I have now is at the highest point that it’s ever been, but I also feel like I’m just beginning to reach new levels of competition and have so much further that I can go,” Burnett said. “Big dreams aren’t easy to achieve, but the journey is what makes it all worth the climb.”
Story provided by Wade Steinlage