Longwood National Champion Corey Rasheed: Driven to Dominate in His Senior Year

Corey Rasheed said it was the “worst I’ve wrestled in a long time.”

Returning from injuries that had sidelined him for most of the summer, the Longwood star went undefeated at the Journeymen Classic to capture the 160-pound title and Most Outstanding Wrestler honors for the upperweights.  He faced a New England champion and wrestlers who took second and third at Fargo in 2013 – and won by a combined 21-5 score.

Not too shabby for his “worst.”

Rasheed, Photo by BV

“When I tell people that, they look at me funny,” he said.  “But I’m not satisfied. It’s not about the title. Most wrestlers are in competition with the kids in their weight, but I feel like I’m in competition with every wrestler. I want to be the best.”

He showed his potential to be among the best as a seventh grader when he earned a spot in the state finals at 96 pounds.  After a fifth place finish as a freshman, Rasheed returned to the title bout in Albany as a sophomore in 2012, before taking silver for the second time.  A few weeks later, he again made the championship round of a big event – the NHSCA Sophomore Nationals in Virginia Beach, where he took second place at 145 pounds.

“When I lost the match [to Minnesota’s Larry Bomstad] in Virginia Beach, it felt like the state finals all over again,” Rasheed said.  “I knew I couldn’t let it happen again.”

He made sure in 2012-13 with a season of pure dominance at 152 pounds.  The Suffolk County standout went 34-0 with 22 pins. Only two opponents managed a regular decision.

But there was only one thing on his mind.

“All season, I was thinking about states,” he said. “I know I shouldn’t have, but during counties, I was thinking about states.  Then, during the first rounds of the state tournament, I was thinking about the finals.”

He punched his ticket to the finals with a technical fall, pin and a 5-0 shutout at the Times Union Center. In his third time wrestling on Saturday night at the biggest New York tournament of the year, he was ready.

“I was kind of numb at the moment,” he said. “Everything seemed so slow. I wasn’t nervous; I’d been there so many times before.  I was just thinking I had to win.  If I lost again in the finals, it would have been devastating.  I had to win.”

He did.  And he did it quickly.  Just 56 seconds into the title bout, Rasheed pinned Great Neck South’s Chris Koo.

“I didn’t care about getting the pin in the first period,” Rasheed said. “At the end of the day, I was just happy to get my hand raised there in the finals.  When I looked at the crowd and saw my friends and family hugging each other, it was a great moment.”

Appropriately, the fall came from the move Rasheed executed with perfection all year long – the cradle.

“I’ve been using that cradle since I started wrestling as a young kid,” he said. “People don’t see that it’s so easy to hit from all different angles.  It’s something that comes natural to me.  I work on other things – I don’t practice the cradle anymore.”

He may not practice it, but he certainly used it a lot, including at Virginia Beach where he returned to the national finals. This time, he came out on top, defeating Alabama’s Brandon Womack 9-6 in the 152-pound title bout to finish a perfect season as a state champion and a national champion.

The national rankers noticed, even if Rasheed wasn’t paying much attention.

Photo by BV

“I’m not a strong believer in rankings,” he said. “It’s an honor to be there and I want to be #1 one day, but I haven’t checked them in a long time. I don’t even know where I am anymore.”

(He is currently listed as the #56 senior in the nation by Intermat and #48 by FloWrestling.  At 160 pounds, Flo has Rasheed as #8 in the land).

College coaches probably have a good idea of where Rasheed stands in the rankings.

“I have a group of schools that I’ve been talking to,” Rasheed said, preferring to leave out the names. “I can’t pick yet because I haven’t visited places so I wouldn’t be making a good decision. I’m not in a rush to commit, but I am excited to wrestle in college.”

Rasheed’s familiarity with college wrestling has been increasing recently.

“I’m unorthodox when it comes to wrestling because I don’t really watch wrestling much,” he said.  “My favorite sport to watch is basketball. But a lot of college coaches that got in touch with me compared me to some guys and I started to watch them. I realized that I’m getting better just from watching. Ed Ruth is one that a lot of the coaches mentioned.  The coaches said we do a lot of the same things in every position.  Other than that, my favorite wrestler to watch is probably Jordan Burroughs – he’s phenomenal; so fast and explosive.”

Many fans have used those adjectives to describe Rasheed as well.  (The vast majority of coaches and observers we spoke to all around the state said Rasheed is New York’s top senior). He named numerous people who have helped him develop over the years, but at the top of that list was his brother Malik, a multiple-time state placer for Longwood.

“Malik has definitely helped me so much,” he said. “He should have been a two or three time state champ, but he had bad luck with tearing cartilage in his rib and so many other things people don’t know about. He’s my biggest influence. Last year, he came to the room and wrestled with me. We really go at it – there are days he beats me up and days I beat him up.  We’ll leave the room bleeding.  At times, we fight because it gets that competitive, but he’s helped me so much.”

That spirit translates to basketball, which Rasheed said he plays just about every day, “even in the snow.”  And despite all his accomplishments, his intensity hasn’t waned at all on the mat.

“I have more of a desire to win now than ever before,” Rasheed said. “In seventh, eighth, ninth grade, I was only thinking about high school wrestling and what I wanted to accomplish there.  But now, I’m thinking about college and the Olympics.  A lot of kids who start young burn out because it’s a tough sport to dedicate yourself to.  It’s not really a sport; it’s a lifestyle.  For me, the feeling of not getting your hand raised is terrible, more now than ever.”

Rasheed doesn’t plan on having that “terrible” feeling this year.  He said he will certify at 154 pounds, giving him the option of being at 152 again or moving up to 160.

“My goals are to win leagues, counties, states and nationals,” he said. “I’m still deciding between Virginia Beach and FloNationals and I know they’re crazy hard tournaments.  But I don’t want to just win; I want to dominate. My goal is to dominate the whole year.”

He pretty much did that as an eleventh grader.  And while he’s proud of what he did in 2012-13, he’s not dwelling on last season.

“I was definitely happy about my junior year,” he said. “Once I graduate, I can look back and say I won states and nationals that year.  But two weeks after nationals, I moved on. I don’t reminisce too much.  I just think about what’s next.  The most important time for me is right now.”

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Corey Rasheed wanted to thank his brother, Malik, his uncle Greg, his mother and his family for their support.  He also wanted to thank coaches Mike Picozzi and Ethan Prifte for their huge influence on him over the years.  In addition, he mentioned the significant contributions of coaches Darren Goldstein, Steve Hromada, Nick Garone and Nick Hall.  He couldn’t name everyone, but thanked everyone who has helped him and supported him along the way.

Diakomihalis Captures the Super 32 Title as Five Others Place in High School Action; Adam Busiello Strikes Middle School Gold

BY MATT DIANO

One year removed from the heartbreak that witnessed several New York wrestlers come close, but only one Empire Stater (Shayne Brady) make the podium at the 2012 Super 32 Challenge, one could not help but feel that when the NY wrestlers took to the mats this weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina, they would be competing with a chip on their shoulders; a little extra motivation; a need to prove that last year was an exception and not the rule.

With all the dust having now settled in the Coliseum, 2012 has officially been put in the rearview mirror following an amazing collective effort which yielded six top-8 finishes, the second most ever earned by New York in the 14-year existence of the Battle for the Belt. (New York had nine placers in 2009).

Led by 106-pound champion Yianni Diakomihalis (Hilton), the Empire State would also emerge with a runner up finish at 182 (Nicky Hall), a bronze medal showing at 152 (Louis Hernandez), a pair of fourth place finishes (Nick Piccininni at 120 and Vincent Feola at 220), and a seventh place effort from Thomas Dutton at 145 pounds.

Diakomihalis

Diakomihalis entered the tournament as the #3 ranked wrestler in the nation per Flo after winning the 2013 NYS large school title as an eighth grader in the 99-pound weight class. The Hilton star would be nothing short of dominant on Sunday, going 3-0, including back-to-back bonus point performances in the quarter and semifinal rounds to punch his ticket to the title bout.  Kicking off the morning by securing a first period fall over Ohio’s Hunter Lucas via cradle, Diakomihalis would make a huge statement in the semifinals when he upended 2013 Ohio DII state champion Tyler Warner, 14-3, in a clash of the #2 and #3 ranked wrestlers in the country.   The fab frosh would take the title with a methodical 3-0 decision over sixth-ranked Cage Curry of Pennsylvania in a bout that was not as close as the score would indicate.  Scoring a takedown in the first period and then adding an escape in the second, Diakomihalis would never give his Keystone State foe an opportunity to get on the board, racking up a plethora of riding time.  After winning the Middle School crown in 2012,  Diakomihalis becomes only the second New York wrestler to ever win a Super 32 High School title. (Joe Booth in 2007 was the first).

Hall, a fifth-year for coach Scott Green at Wyoming Seminary (PA), would make his home state proud in finishing second at 182.  Because he is considered a postgraduate, the former Longwood standout is not eligible for an individual national ranking.  However, this weekend more than proved that he is among the nation’s elite as he would go on to defeat the #20 wrestler in the land, Stephen Loiseau of Lancaster Catholic (PA), 6-0 in the quarterfinals, before besting 2013 Michigan third place finisher/#19 (@195) ranked, Ty Wildmo (who upset the 11th ranked wrestler in the quarters), to advance to the finals.  In the championship match, the recent North Carolina State commit would give a game effort, constantly looking for his offense.  But alas, a second title for the Empire State would not be in the cards as Hall dropped a 5-2 decision to Zack Zavatsky.  With the #9 ranked Zavatsky headed to Virginia Tech next fall, Sunday’s finals match could have been the commencement of a long ACC rivalry between these two talented competitors.

Taking the long way to the bronze medal would be the defending NYS large school champion from Mepham, Hernandez.  A product of the Ascend Wrestling Club, with his mentor, Craig Vitagliano in his corner, the day would begin with a bit of whimper for the #13 ranked wrestler in the nation.  Pitted in a tight quarterfinal bout against #4 Jake Danishek, Hernandez appeared to be the aggressor for much of the duration, but would be unable to convert on any of his takedown attempts.  With the match deadlocked at 1-1, the three-time Ohio state champion out of Dayton would explode for a controversial takedown in the final half minute and would hold on in the closing seconds to earn the 3-2 decision.  This questionable loss would be the only one of the day for the stud from Nassau County as he would go on to win four consecutive bouts in the consolation bracket, highlighted by a 7-5 decision over the nation’s #3 wrestler, Fox Baldwin (Florida) in the wrestleback semifinals.  Hernandez would also post 10-2 and 8-3 victories over National Prep third place finisher, Toby Hague, and New Jersey fourth place medalist Zack Hertling prior to his aforementioned win over the Floridian.  In the bronze bout, Hernandez would win a low scoring affair, recording the only takedown of the match to secure the 3-2 decision over 2013 Virginia runner up, Jack Bass.

Piccininni would demonstrate the heart and perseverance that has made him a two-time NYS champion for Ward Melville, rebounding from Saturday’s disappointing upset loss in the round of 16 to go 4-1 on Sunday.  Beginning his journey back to a top-four placement with a 3-0 shutout over 2013 Pennsylvania bronze medalist Tyrone Klump of Nazareth, the wrestler from Suffolk would survive a bit of a scare when he was taken into sudden victory by fellow nationally ranked (13th) opponent, Kyle Akins of Illinois.  With the match all knotted up at 3-3, Piccininni would waste little time in making sure he advanced, quickly getting in deep and finishing on the 2013 Illinois state champion.  In the consolation quarters, Piccininni would run into a familiar foe in the person of New Jersey’s Anthony Cefolo.  A 3-0 winner over the Garden State representative two weeks ago at the Iron Horse Invitational, the Ward Melville standout would make it two-for-two against the Hanover Park product, notching an 8-4 decision. The Empire State’s top-ranked junior would pick up his final win of the tournament in the consolation semifinals, defeating fan favorite Troy Gregor, from the host state, 5-1.  In the bout for the bronze, Piccininni would come up just short of third place honors, losing a hard fought 4-3 decision to the nation’s top-ranked wrestler, Sean Russell from Georgia powerhouse Collins Hill.  Russell finished second at the Super 32 last season.

Perhaps the most surprising top-8 finisher for New York would be Feola, who came to the Tar Heel State as a relative unknown, but leaves it as a hot commodity following his 2-2 effort on the final day of competition.  The Walt Whitman High School and Vougar Honors Wrestling Club representative may have raised his stock more than any other Empire Stater this weekend.  A fourth place finisher at the Suffolk County Tournament in 2013 for Walt Whitman, he would lock up a spot on the podium when he jumped out early and then kept his composure late to earn a 5-4 decision in the quarterfinals over LaSalle College High School’s Antonio Pelusi.  However, in the semifinals, 2013 Massachusetts state champion Ian Butterbrodt would have his arsenal from the top position on full display, earning several series of back points to deny the Long Islander a spot in the finals with the 11-1 major decision.  Feola would split his final two bouts of the weekend, sticking his consolation semifinal opponent, 2013 Florida runner up Ben Cruz, in 84 seconds before finding himself on the short end of an 8-3 decision in the third place bout to 2012 Georgia silver medalist, Matthew Moore.

Speaking of stock that continues to skyrocket, Rocky Point’s Dutton had another stellar outing. Two weeks after winning the Iron Horse, the junior who finished fourth in Albany last season, would come up clutch again, posting a .500 record (2-2) on day two in North Carolina to become the second member of his family to finish in the top-8 at this event. (Older brother, Stephen, who currently wrestles for the University of Michigan, was a two-time S32 placewinner, including a runner up showing in 2009).

Dutton’s morning would begin on something of a sour note following an 11- 2 major decision loss to two-time Missouri champion/#8 ranked wrestler in the country, Grant Leeth. However, Dutton would need less than a minute in the consolation bracket to guarantee himself a placement finish, earning the fall at the 58 second mark over 2013 Pennsylvania sixth place finisher, Billy Barnes.  Like Feola, Dutton would split his final two matches of the tournament, losing a 10-3 decision to eventual third place finisher, Nick Bennett of Michigan in the consolation semis, but then putting an exclamation on a solid weekend with a 4-3 decision over two-time New Jersey runner up, Gary Dinmore.  This “w” makes two in a row for Dutton over Dinmore, as he also defeated him by one point (3-2) at the Iron Horse.

Falling just short of the podium, but still very deserving of recognition were the following wrestlers who lost in the round of 12: Vito Arujau (113, Syosset), Vincent DePrez (145, Hilton), and Steven Schneider (170, MacArthur).  All were 2013 large school state silver medalists. Arujau would drop a 1-0 decision to eventual eighth place finisher, Eric Hong (PA); DePrez would be defeated by the fourth place medalist, Micheal Longo of California (6-1); and Schneider would be nipped 2-1 by the seventh placer from Ohio, Seth Williams.

Showing that not only is the present bright, but so too is the future were the following Middle School Division placewinners: Adam Busiello (1st @85), Hector Colom (3rd @100), Michael Gonyea (5th @75), Ivan Garcia (6th @ 70), and AJ Burkhart (6th @95).

With a 1-0 victory over Colorado’s Colton Yapoujian in the title bout, Busiello becomes the first New York State wrestler to win multiple Youth Super 32 titles, after cruising to the crown in 2012.  Yapoujian, who won a Super 32 gold medal in 2011 and placed second last season, entered the tournament as the pound-for-pound #6 junior high prospect on the Flo rankings board.  Busiello is expected to compete on the varsity this season as a seventh grader for coach Nick Garone’s Eastport-South Manor squad.

Colom, who set the school record for victories in a single season as a 7th-grader with 37 (37-5) for Dunkirk, would compile a 5-1 record on the day, opening the tournament with three straight wins, including a 4-2 decision over Flo’s #19 junior High School prospect, Mason Turner of Olathe, Kansas. In fact, the 2013 Section VI 4th place finisher appeared destined to go all the way to the winner’s circle before being tripped up in the semifinals by the 32nd rated youth wrestler, Brian Stuart of Maryland. The 12-year-old superstar would return to his winning ways in the consolation bracket, pitching shutouts in each of his final two bouts of the tournament, including a 3-0 decision in the bronze medal match against Council Rock, PA’s Benjamin Radner.

Notching four pins in his five overall victories would be the Journeymen Wrestling Club protege, Gonyea, who went 5-2 with victories over opponents from Vermont, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.  The two opponents who were successful in getting their hands raised against him would later go on to finish 2nd and 3rd overall in the tournament.

Garcia (representing the Apex Wrestling Club) and Burkhart (Waverly) would go a combined 7-6 in rounding out the NYS youth contingent’s performance with their previously noted sixth place finishes.

Congratulations to all NYS placewinners!

FINAL High School BRACKETS

Final Middle School Brackets (free registration required)

Super 32 Update: State Champs Diakomihalis and Hernandez Among the NY Wrestlers Still in Contention in Greensboro

Hernandez, Photo by BV

After a full day of competition in Greensboro, NC, New York has a number of wrestlers alive in the chase for the Super 32 championship belt.  That includes a pair of 2013 state titlewinners – Yianni Diakomihalis (Hilton, 106) and Louis Hernandez (Mepham, 152).

Diakomihalis, who won a Middle School crown at this event last year, was dominant with two pins and a technical fall during the day.  Hernandez cruised as well, with seven and nine point wins in his first two bouts before receiving a forfeit in the Round of 16.

After winning a challenging bracket at the Iron Horse a few weeks ago, Rocky Point’s Tom Dutton followed up with four straight victories at 145 to punch his ticket to the quarters.  Another champion at the Iron Horse, Steve Schneider of MacArthur, posted a trio of wins, including a pin at 170. Fellow Long Island wrestler Vincent Feola of Walt Whitman notched a fall and a one-point decision at 220, while former Longwood standout (and current Wyoming Seminary grappler) Nicky Hall will also appear in the Round of 8 tomorrow, at 182 pounds.

In addition to the quarterfinalists mentioned above, several other Empire State wrestlers remain in contention for spots on the podium, including state champion Nick Piccininni of Ward Melville at 120 pounds and NYS finalists Vito Arujau of Syosset (113) and Vincent DePrez of Hilton (145).  Also still in the mix after a successful first day on the mat in North Carolina are East Islip’s Dennis Ferro at 152, Clarence’s Jake Weber and Rocky Point’s Joseph Russo at 170 and former Pine Bush competitor Chris Cuccolo at 106.

Sunday’s Scheduled Matches for NY Wrestlers – Super 32 Challenge

In the quarterfinals:

106: Yianni Diakomihalis (Hilton) vs. Hunter Lucas (OH)

145: Tommy Dutton (Rocky Point) vs. Grant Leeth (MO)

152: Louis Hernandez (Mepham) vs. Jacob Danishek (IN)

170: Steve Schneider (MacArthur) vs. Chance Marstellar (PA)

182: Nicky Hall (Wyoming Seminary/Longwood) vs. Stephen Loiseau (PA)

220: Vincent Feola (Walt Whitman) vs. Antonio Pelusi (PA)

 

In the wrestlebacks:

106: Chris Cuccolo (St. Benedicts/Pine Bush) vs. Jarrett Reisenbichler (MO)

113: Vito Arujau (Syosset) vs. Patrick D’Arcy (NJ)

120: Nick Piccininni (Ward Melville) vs. Tyrone Klump (PA)

145: Vincent DePrez (Hilton) vs. Chandler Pyke (GA)

152: Dennis Ferro (East Islip) vs. Paden Bailey (OK)

170: Jake Weber (Clarence) vs. Jacob Cooper (MI)

170: Joseph Russo (Rocky Point) vs. Joe Heyob (OH)

Long Island Native Jenna Burkert Returns to FILA Junior World Championships Looking for Gold

Photo courtesy of Jenna Burkert

It had been quite some time since Jenna Burkert took the mat against a male wrestler.  But Burkert didn’t treat her opponent any differently than the females she typically faces, and the result was familiar.

She won by fall.

“I probably hadn’t wrestled an official match against a guy in four or five years,” she said of the exhibition dual in March 2012 against a group from Japan at Northern Michigan.  “It was a lot of fun to participate and especially to get the pin. It almost felt like a new experience.”

The experience may have felt new, but it was common years ago on Long Island.  In fact, when she first began in the sport, Burkert primarily competed with the boys and did so with a lot of success.

“I started wrestling in first grade in Rocky Point,” Burkert said. “There was a flyer in my classroom and a kid told me I couldn’t do it because I was a girl.  I begged my mom for a long time and finally she let me do it.  I fell in love with it and did well right away.“

She did, recalling that she was undefeated for years against her male foes.  She said her first loss was an unfamiliar feeling for a number of reasons.

“The first time I was beaten was by a girl – Lisa Anson,” Burkert said. “I was used to winning against the boys so when I lost, I didn’t know what to do.  She’s actually a friend of mine, but I never did get the chance to get revenge on the mat.”

Over the years, losses have become fewer and far between.  And now, Burkert is getting ready to take on some of the best at the FILA Junior World Championships in Thailand in early September.

“I’ve trained all year for this,” she said. “I’ve put in the time, the training, the running.  I’ve gotten some great experience and participated in both Olympic camps.  I feel like I’m ready.  I plan on getting the gold and having fun doing it.”

This won’t be the first time at a high profile international event for Burkert.  She was a Junior Olympian in 2010 and last year at the Junior Worlds in Romania, she went 2-2 (with two pins) and finished eighth.

“It’s just an honor to compete at such a high level,” she said.  “I thought I wrestled just okay at the Junior Worlds last year.  I think the nerves got to me.  Even the two matches I won, I had to come back in both.  It wasn’t fun because I let so much pressure build up.  But there’s a big difference this year.  I’m having a lot more fun and it think it will show.  I can do better and I will this time.”

Part of the fun is appreciating the trip.  Burkert said she is hoping to ride an elephant while in Thailand and to experience some of the country, something she felt she was able to do while in India in May of this year.  On that journey, she notched an impressive second place performance in the Hari Ram Grand Prix in New Delhi, despite wrestling on relatively short notice.

“I had no idea I was going until a little bit before,” she said.  “Olympian Kelsey Campbell was going at 55 and the coach said they needed at 59 pounder.  We were there about a week.  It was one of my favorite trips.  We had a really fun group, including Kristie Davis, who is someone I’ve always looked up to.  The people of India that we met were really nice and we went on runs where we really got to see the town. It was frustrating to lose in the finals, but it was a great experience.”

The great experience was one of many for Burkert in 2012.  She had a productive year, including a second place showing at the Dave Schultz Invitational and a dominant performance at the Body Bar, where she earned her berth to the upcoming Junior Worlds.

She continued to increase in confidence, going to toe to toe with many of the top grapplers in the nation, including Olympian Campbell.

“It was really good to wrestle Kelsey and a lot of the Olympians,” she said. “Sometimes you get caught up, putting them on a high level and forgetting that when you’re on the mat, you need to see them as just girls with wrestling shoes on.  They deserve respect for all they’ve done but not when you’re out there wrestling them.  I started to try to take it to them.”

Burkert saw a lot of the London-bound wrestlers in Colorado Springs, which will be her new place of residence after living in Michigan for a number of years.

During her sophomore year of high school, she moved to the Wolverine State when coach Tony DeAnda offered her a spot in the US Olympic Education (USOEC) program at Northern Michigan University.   She had been attending school in Longwood, but found the invitation to the elite training environment at the USOEC difficult to turn down.

“It was really hard to leave, even though I was excited,” she said. “It was just one of those opportunities that may never come again if you don’t take advantage.”

It certainly was an adjustment.  Burkert said she had practice at 5 a.m., then attended high school at nearby Marquette Senior High before attending another practice, which ended around 7:30 in the evening.   The severe winter in the first year didn’t make things easier.

“It was really hard at first,” she said. “New team, new coaches, new school, no parents.  I would cry every day in the beginning to anyone who would listen. But, after a few months, it got better.  Erin Golston and I became good friends and helped each other through.  By the end, I wound up loving it.  I made great friends and the whole town is wonderful.  I was even voted the class clown.”

She had plenty of success on the mat as well as she was named the ASICS Women’s High School Wrestler of the Year in 2010 and 2011.  But despite her happiness in Michigan, she didn’t forget her original home in Suffolk County.

“It’s great to come back. I always go to Rocky Point and see the guys there, who are really nice and give me so much respect.  I get some good workouts in too with lots of people, like the Duttons.  But I mostly like to beat up on Darren Goldstein and [Steven] Ketcham,” she said with a laugh.  “The support I get from Long Island is great.  Sometimes I think they may have forgotten about me, but then I see they still talk about me and want to see me succeed, and that’s amazing.”

Coming to New York also gives Burkert a chance to see others who are so important to her.

“I really appreciate the support of my family.  They’ve given so much time, effort and money since I was young to help me get where I am,” she said.

And, her family has also served as an inspiration to her and her career goals off the mat.

“With the women’s freestyle program moving from Northern Michigan, I’ll be resident athlete at the OTC,” she said. “I’ll be training and going to the University of Colorado Springs.  The education is so important to me.  I’ve always been around autism with my brother Joshua.   He is the reason I want to be a special education teacher, hopefully in kindergarten, because I feel you can have so much impact at that age.”

Burkert’s dedication is apparent to everyone who sees her, or more accurately, to all of those who see her ankle, where she has a tattoo that says “Joshua” on top of the symbol for Autism Awareness.

“I plan on getting an Olympic medal and using that platform to really get the cause out there,” she said.

But before the Rio Games in 2016, Burkert has many other intermediate goals in mind. It all starts next week in Pattaya, Thailand where she looks to become a Junior World champion.