How Legends Are Made

Each teacher has a unique origin story, a journey that explains how they ended up standing in front of a group of students, and these stories are important enough to share with those we teach and work alongside. I met this week’s educator and guest writer, Heather Burd, at conferences in Minnesota and North Dakota, and each time we spoke, I learned more about her amazing journey. You will appreciate this inspirational blog post from Heather.

Have you ever had a student say, “I can’t do that!” I have. I kind of laugh inside a little. I am a different teacher. I truly believe in using differences as a positive toward any goal. 

I am a physically handicapped Physical Education and Health Education teacher who has had to say something like “Let’s see what you can do” every day. 

I was born with right hemiplegia, partial paralysis of the right side muscles, due to a cyst that developed while I was in the womb. My parents were told that my symptoms would be similar to that of someone who had had a stroke. 

So, of course, I became a physical educator, and I love it! 

Sport education for my students has been at the forefront of my professional career, and this stems from my own sport education. 

I grew up in an area where “figuring out how to make things work” was always the strength of the people and my community. Whatever needed to get done, and however we needed to get it done, we were going to do it. No matter what it took. So, my parents supported my desire and love for sports at a young age. Sports made me feel like I counted and was part of something bigger than myself. I was going to fit in. I had a purpose. I was different, but my parents said, “Let’s see what you can do.”    

I am different. There were some obstacles to overcome. I had many people tell me that I did not belong. I had signed up for sports in high school and had people laugh at me, told me it wasn’t a good idea, and that I needed to get a new hobby instead of being part of this team. 

The head coach for girls’ basketball at my high school, Richard Braun, had seen my name had been crossed off at least six times and saw that I was visibly upset. He was probably one of the most significant leaders in the school. (I was so nervous around him!) He asked me if I was going out for basketball, and with tears in my eyes, I said I really wanted to. Coach Braun said, “All right! Let’s see what you can do.” I was at practice that following Monday.    

Fast forward a couple of years. It is my junior year, and I am enjoying my first competitive court experience as a varsity girl’s basketball player. I know I’m a practice player and had been told my job is to ensure that the starters are always doing their job. I was there to make our starters better every single day. On the day of our jamboree, we were playing a local rival, and our team was having a hard time getting a rebound against them. A whistle blows the ball dead. Seeing that there were 37 seconds before halftime, Coach Braun grabbed my jersey from the bench and told me to box out! I reply with the loudest “ok” anybody could yell. I was playing as a disabled practice player. What disability? I had a job to do! And I was going to succeed. We were down by one, on defense, and needed a rebound. When the shot went up, I held back the big rebounder on the opposite team with the best box out I could, and the ball bounced before the guard on my team. We got the rebound and, as the buzzer sounded, scored with a layup to go up by one at the half. 

I did my job. I did it so well that my team scored a basket. When we went into the locker room for the halftime pep talk, it was like I had won the championship for the team. The first words that came out of Coach Braun’s mouth were a loud, “That’s how you do your job, Heather!” The girls cheered and said “Great job” to me as I was choking down tears. Coach Braun continued with motivating words to make sure that we ALL did our jobs to succeed for the rest of the game and to finish the job. 

PS. We won that rival game easily, and I got my first “Star of the Game” from the local radio announcer. My coach knew I had a purpose. I could truly bring something to my team. I was someone who could bring us closer to our goals, and he knew how to put me in a position where I could do my job and do it well. 

Coach Braun knew how to use everyone’s personal gifts to make his team succeed. He coached every player to count, have a purpose, and love what they accomplished every day. This is how legends are made. 

How lucky were we to have someone make that big of a difference in our lives? Everyone counts. Everyone has a purpose. 

We are a better society when everyone’s strength is used to help people reach their potential. 

My sport education helped define what I believe I was called to do. I was called to teach and coach. I would give my students a sport education to help them all reach their goals and accomplish their dreams. 

Basketball was the catapult that launched me into my studies of sport. After graduating at 17 years of age, with the help of my strongest role models/mentors (now lifelong friends), I began my journey into coaching Junior Olympic volleyball with the Roragen’s. They said,” Let’s see what you can do”! These two leaders continued the legacy and the importance/benefits of a strong sport education for their student-athletes. My coaching journey continued for Win-E-Mac as the 12’s-18’s volleyball coach. I was to be their skill developer. They knew I had a gift to give and a job to do. I was going to teach sport and the benefit of sport to student-athletes. Next, I went to Concordia College to study physical education, health education, coaching, and music. My next challenges were about to begin… I did not let anything stop me. I was going to be amazing at accomplishing my goals. I was involved in everything I could be a part of. I went to the volleyball coach to ask if I could study under him, becoming his student assistant, and because I was part of the band, I went to the men’s basketball program to study under them. 

I was about to declare my major during my sophomore year, but my application to this major was about to be denied by the department chair. To support my choice, my coaches met with the chair. He was not about to let a disabled person teach physical education. How could she? How would she get students proficient in movements her body could not do herself? My coaches all vouched for my studying, knowledge, and skills of sport studies, asking the chair to say, “Let’s see what she can do.”  

That’s when my studies went into hyperdrive. My coaches knew that I had the challenge of a lifetime. As I began my studies, my teachers made sure that I was perfect in teaching skills, learning how to speak things that I could not show. Legends like Mr. Roysland, Mr. Nelson, Mr. Halverson, and Mr. Hegg from WEM volleyball and basketball allowed me to study practices and games with my coaching practicum hours. I also had the honor of studying under Jean Lopez, Head volleyball and basketball coach for DGF, and was lucky enough to run practices and coach Sophomore games when their schedule allowed one. Throughout my tenure at NDSU, I studied under sports teams and sport pedagogy with my graduate assistantship. These coaches coached me. I was worthy of being coached. It is through these coaches that I learned cues and descriptive words that were essential to my success as a coach. I thought my teachers were so tough on me! It was not until years later that I understood what they were working so hard to accomplish for me. They were molding a student into an exemplary teacher. This is how legends are made.

I have been home for eight years now after teaching for six years at the University of North Dakota physical and health education teacher education. This is where I taught future teachers how to be the best at what they do. Over these 8 years of teaching and coaching at Win-E-Mac School, I have applied a curriculum that I have designed that uses sport education to teach character, social and emotional learning, self-awareness, self-management, goal setting, and accomplishing. This curriculum is now being presented around the tri-state region and accepted for publication in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. 

With the honor of teacher of the year 2021, I am now part of the Board of Directors for Physical Education in Minnesota and the Vice President of Physical Education. It all started with my parents saying, “Let’s see what she can do.” Teachers collaborated with my parents, figuring out what I truly could do. 

One of my favorite stories is about when my computer teacher, Mrs. Halverson, sat down with my dad to figure out how a girl with only one “good” hand could pass her computer class. With high expectations, Mrs. Halverson and my dad said together, “Let’s see what she can do.” 

I have been part of my local fire department since graduating with my bachelor’s degree. I had the talk of a lifetime, discussing with the chiefs of the department whether I could truly contribute to our local fire department team. My chiefs said, “Let’s see what she can do.” It meant everything to me to become a legacy member of this prestigious team and to honor the legend of a “teacher” that my father was. With years of practice and study, I am certified as a pumper operator, an emergency medical responder, a certified red cross instructor, report recorder, and I have fought wildfires with my team. I am currently in the class Fire Fighter I for the first time. I COUNT. I FIT IN. I HAVE A TRUE PURPOSE. 

If it weren’t for the sport education I have had, I would never be where I am today. I have so much to do and so much to teach. I hope to continue the legacy my legends have made for me, my children, my family, and my community. This is my tribute to you all. We have always been a team. We have always believed that there is something special about this area and what we stand for. This is my tribute to you, legends. Never forget how powerful you are. Continue your purpose. Just like I say to my students and educators, I leave you with this comment, “Let’s see what YOU can do.”

Pair this blog post with the following:

My Why by Charlie Rizzuto

Unexpected Detours by Ray Ostrowski

Breaking Free – Shattering Expectations and Thriving with Ambition in Pursuit of Gold by McKenzie Coan

4 thoughts on “How Legends Are Made

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