Val Burke won’t take all the credit for the astounding success of the many athletes she’s worked with over the years — her programs are better suited to the athletes that are self-motivated, and take training as seriously as competing.
Over the past six years, Burke has worked with most of Whistler’s top endurance athletes, helping to improve their performance by taking a scientific approach to training. She has records of every high performance athlete she has worked with, from times in interval runs to the level of oxygen they can carry in their blood, which she has used to measure progress.
And progress has been made. Burke’s athletes are winning triathlons, runs, and bike races, posting personal bests, and qualifying for events like the Ironman World Championships.
Burke and her family are moving back to New Zealand this winter after staying in Whistler far longer than they planned. However, despite the fact that she’ll be halfway around the world, Burke plans to continue her work with some local athletes.
Pique caught up to Val Burke last week to talk about her time in Whistler, the athletes she’s worked with, and her approach to training.
Pique: You worked in New Zealand before you arrived in Whistler. When did you get here?
Val Burke: We arrived in October, 2001. I was working at a university in New Zealand at the time, the University of Otago, for the previous seven years. I taught classes, labs, and worked in a human performance resource centre affiliated with the university — all kinds of exercise physiology stuff. I was a bit worried when we moved here because there was no academic centre in Whistler, and that was what I was used to.
I went into Meadow Park Sports Centre on the first day we were here, and they said they had nothing for me. I ended up volunteering for about six months. It was interesting — I went from working with Olympic athletes in New Zealand, and here I was cleaning windows and mirrors while getting started as a trainer.
Pique: Do you remember the first athlete you worked with?
VB: The first one, and I have to give him a lot of credit for getting me started, was Lance Brannigan. He was a big biker, and went to the World Police and Fire Games. He won a medal there, and came back and told all the physios and everybody. I didn’t know a lot of people, and he spread the word. And then it was the Suters, and especially Paul Suter and Paul Nicholas. I helped them to get ready for Ironman, and Paul Nicholas qualified for the championships in Kona that year. After that it was Marie-Anne Prevost — I’ve now worked with her every year since she got started in Ironman, we’re in year five, and she continues to improve with every year.
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