March 2017 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Tim Burke & Andrea Henkel Burke
Age: Tim, 35, and Andrea, 39
Residence: Lake Placid
Profession: Professional Athletes and Business Owner
Primary Sport: Biathlon
By Amy Cheney-Seymour
Tim grew up in the small town of Paul Smiths, which is located just outside of the Olympic village of Lake Placid. With abundant winter snow and an active family, Tim started skiing and competing from a very young age. As a youth and junior skier, Tim was part of NYSEF Nordic, and teammates with Haley Johnson Stewart, Billy Demong, Annalies Cook and Lowell Bailey. Urged by coach Kris Cheney-Seymour to try biathlon at the age of 13, Tim is now a veteran of the US Biathlon Team.
Along the way, Tim has become a three-time winter Olympian, competing in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 games. At the 2013 World Championships he won the silver medal in the 20K individual competition, the second American man ever to win a World Championship medal. Tim has also competed on the World Cup tour for the past ten years and during this time has accumulated multiple podium finishes and numerous top 10s. During the 2009-10 season he notched up three podium finishes in December to attain the number one world ranking for a portion of the season. In doing so, Tim became the first American to wear the yellow bib, marking him as the top ranked biathlete in the world.
Married since 2014, Tim currently lives in Lake Placid with his wife, Andrea Henkel Burke, a now retired German superstar biathlete in her own right, with multiple world championship and Olympic gold medals. I recently had a moment to interview Tim in the midst the recent biathlon euphoria with Lowell Bailey’s gold and silver medal finishes at World Championships and World Cup.
When asked how his teammates would describe him, Tim says, “I think they would describe me as someone who’s passionate and driven to succeed in sport, but who also enjoys a good laugh. At least that’s how I hope they would describe me!”
Tim’s family played a huge role in my supporting him in biathlon and they still do today. From trying to keep up with his older brother and sister, to his parents driving him to practice every day, Tim feels his family was an instrumental to his success in sport.
Since biathlon is definitely not a mainstream sport in the US, Tim adds, “Everyone thought I was a bit crazy with the amount of time I committed to biathlon. I traveled a lot in high school for different competitions and this was always challenging with school work.” He was committed to full-time training for biathlon starting at age 16. This was challenging because he missed out on participating in other sports, which he was also passionate about.
Many athletes identify superior results as a highlight of their career. When asked about his breakthrough moment in his training or racing that had nothing to do with results; he says in 2012 he had compartment syndrome surgery on both of his legs. This took him out of his normal training routine for almost three months. At that time he decided to use the extra time from missing physical training to work more on the mental side of sport. In the end, he feels he benefited a lot from this, perhaps even more than if he had been able to maintain his normal training routine.
As an accomplished biathlete Tim is a celebrity in Europe and Scandinavia. There’s a massive transition from signing autographs in Italy to the relative anonymity of living and training in the US. For Tim and Andrea, it’s one of the craziest parts about being a biathlete in America. “We really live in two different worlds. I never started biathlon with the hope of becoming popular, so I am always happy to come home and enjoy the quiet!”
Always looking ahead, Tim will be approaching his fourth Olympic games next year in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Over the long haul, his training, recovery, and nutrition has changed over the course of his long career. He’s always searching for new ideas but he also knows what has worked well in the past. He tries to learn from all of the mistakes he’s made, and from the things he’s done well to create a plan that works best for him.
Tim gives the following advice to aspiring biathletes. “Biathlon is challenging sport and you have to learn to live with the ups and downs. From one race to the next, from one season to another, you can literally go from the top of the world to the middle of the pack. I always tell aspiring biathletes to continue pushing forward, regardless of the results.”
For the future of the sport here in the US, Tim would like to see US Biathlon Association take steps in the future to offer more support to the local clubs. But this is also a big challenge for the USBA because they have very limited funds. At some point the local clubs also need to step up to create programs. In the end, Tim thinks it comes down to cooperation between the USBA and the clubs. Everyone needs to be working towards the same goals and helping each other get there.
As a junior skier Tim was a part of a very important core group of skiers, who have gained much recognition on the world stage. Many attribute their collective success at the time to the chemistry of this group, and Tim wholeheartedly agrees. “Growing up in this area, I had many opportunities to be involved with different sports and programs. Despite these choices, I always preferred ski practice because of the great group we had at the time. Not only did we have lots of fun but we also pushed each other to be better athletes. It’s a combination that is hard to come by.”
Amy Cheney-Seymour (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Vermontville is a writer and blogger, wife and mom of two teens. She enjoys skiing, running, and caring for her horses.