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Sue runs with her service dog Lili, a golden retriever using trekking poles & a brace on her right leg.

Sue Burke

Boulder tennis coach Sue Burke had given up on the idea of running another marathon, until she saw the horror of the Boston Marathon bombing unfold on her TV screen last April.

Burke, who has been living with multiple sclerosis since 2003, ran 13 marathons and finished two full Ironman triathlons before her diagnosis.

After it, she ran the Boston Marathon in the mobility impaired division in 2006 and 2008. She wasn't able to finish the race in 2008 because of her symptoms. Burke thought it would be her last marathon.

But watching the destruction at the finish line along Boylston Street in Boston, which killed three people and wounded hundreds, Burke felt mostly anger.

She also felt the need to run again. This year, Burke is the only Colorado competitor racing the April 21 marathon in the mobility impaired division, and one of 71 runners from Boulder, according to the race entry list.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," Burke said. "I started to cry. Anyone who's run down Boylston Street, you just know the feel of it. I thought it was a mistake. I knew I had to find a way to get back there to support all of those affected, and the project began."

Finding community

The "project" includes Burke training her body to keep moving the entire race. Her symptoms from multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks the central nervous system, vary depending on the day, but include muscle spasticity, mental and physical fatigue and drop foot, which makes it difficult for Burke to lift her right foot.

The "project" also meant Burke had to get over her fears about running in public, even though she often falls while training or racing.

As a full-time tennis professional, Burke said she has mostly kept her disease private. Her livelihood depends on physical activity and coaching people on how to move, she said.

But last spring, she ran the 5280 Challenge Games in Denver, which includes categories for athletes with disabilities, and finished several events.

It was also one of her first forays into a community of athletes with physical impairments.

Mostly, Burke runs with her service dog Lili, a golden retriever, or by herself using trekking poles and a brace on her right leg.

She'll run Boston without a guide, on her own, but will be surrounded by other runners who share her grief over last year's bombings.

"MS can be really isolating and kind of remove you from the things that you've always known," she said. "I can't even get out on the trails anymore because I keep tripping. For me to be a part of something this special is pretty overwhelming, actually."

'You move forward'

Burke, the tennis pro at Colorado Athletic Club-Flatirons, has always been an athlete.

She played No. 1 singles at Rutgers University and spent time on the professional circuit before traveling the world coaching and working with players at all levels.

At first, that made it difficult for her to accept her body's new abilities, especially in an endurance-centric town like Boulder, which is home to hundreds of professional runners, cyclists and triathletes.

But in the last year, Burke said she's grown a lot in her confidence and doesn't give much thought to what people think of her "unpredictable" running style.

"I had to make the decision," she said. "I could either sit at home and not be able to do what I want to do, or wear the necessary equipment and get out there."

When she thinks ahead to the Boston Marathon, Burke said she knows it will be emotional — for her, and probably for everyone.

"Part of that is it makes you move forward," she said. "I gotta do this. I want to do this. I'm here to do this and I want to do it. I think I've come to terms with the fact that the course could be closed and I'll still be walking."

One of her supporters has been Colleen De Reuck, a former professional runner who lives in Boulder and works as an independent running coach and as a personal trainer at Colorado Athletic Club-Flatirons.

De Reuck said this year's race has significance for everyone, and added that she admires Burke for running with what is often a painful disease.

"The Boston Marathon has a special meaning for all athletes," De Reuck said. "Athletes are one huge family that supports one another. I can just imagine how difficult it will be for her to run the marathon when she has pain in everyday life activities. It shows you what a wonderful person she is to go out and do Boston to support those who lost their lives."

Sue Burke MS Youth Foundation
Burke is also supporting students who have been affected by the disease through her MS Youth Foundation, which promotes awareness of multiple sclerosis and provides scholarships to affected youth.

Her bid to run Boston is also a fundraiser for the foundation, which has provided $15,000 in scholarships since 2006.

Through the scholarships, Burke hopes to provide at least a small bit of stability in the lives of children who have been affected by the disease.

"Many of their parents have lost their jobs due to MS," Burke said. "You read the stories of what the cost of the disease has been to the families, and the uncertainty of the disease. That's what makes it so tough. There's no cure. It's very unpredictable and kids are trying to plan for their future. It's almost impossible."

Carrie Nolan, president of the Colorado-Wyoming chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said Burke running in the Boston Marathon will bring awareness to a disease that can affect anyone, and will help clear up some of the myths about the disease, such as that all people living with MS are confined to wheelchairs.

"Most people will say 'I have MS, but MS does not have me,'" Nolan said."And I think that's how (Burke) lives her life. She may have MS and it may have affected some of her mobility, but it's not going to stop her from running the Boston Marathon. It's not going to stop her from working. It's not going to stop her from teaching kids how to play tennis."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or
Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by (BOULDER NEWS) 
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length
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