Braden Burk represents state in Hershey Track and Field Games

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Switzerland County’s Braden Burk had many “firsts” recently as he traveled to Hershey, Pennsylvania to represent the State of Indiana in the Hershey Track and Field Games. The event was held in late July and early August, and Braden Burk was one of five athletes who earned the right to represent the state as part of the Great Lakes Region.

He ran the 800-meter run in the boys 11-12 year old competition.

Prior to leaving for the games, Braden Burk was looking forward to his first trip on an airplane – and with his feet back on the ground here in Switzerland County, it was a wonderful experience.

“Flying was really fun,” Braden Burk said. “I wasn’t scared at all. The hardest part was that we had to wake up to go to the airport at 3:30 a.m.”

The group landed in Philadelphia, and then took a two-hour bus ride to Elizabethtown College near Hershey. The athletes then had an activity day so that athletes could get to know each other; and then attended a “shirt swap”.

“Each of us got between four and six shirts for our region,” Braden Burk said. “We swapped shirts with kids from other parts of the country, which was a lot of fun. We had to keep two of our own shirts. I got shirts from Florida, Maine, Ohio, and Alaska – but I lost the one from Alaska.”

The first day ended with the official opening ceremonies, where athletes were shown clips of last year’s event; and Braden Burk and his fellow athletes also had their first opportunity to meet Olympic athletes.

“I got to meet Rafer Johnson and Carl Lewis,” Braden Burk said. “They spoke that first night, and we also got autographs from other Olympians. It was really neat.”

One of Braden Burk’s goals heading to Hershey was to get his hero, Carl Lewis, to autograph his running shoes. Although he didn’t get that done, he did get the sprinter’s autograph.

On Friday the athletes got up early and headed to the Hershey Park Amusement Park for a day of fun. After that they toured the Hershey Chocolate Factory, where workers were producing Hershey Kiss candies in preparation for the Christmas season.

“They said that they make 40 million kisses a day,” Braden Burk. “Everything was running pretty fast.”

From there it was to “World of Hershey”, where Braden considered buying the world’s largest candy bar – but thought better of it with a race less than a day away.

Saturday was race day at the Games, with athletes leaving for the games at 8 a.m. The games were held at Milton Hershey High School; and everything got started with the meet’s opening ceremony and entrance of the athletes.

Race day was a rainy one, and Braden Burk ran his 800-meter race in a steady rain. Overall, he still managed an eighth place finish in a field of 12 runners.

“I ran a better time at the state meet than I did at the nationals,” Braden Burk said. “I was nervous. I’ve never run in front of 5,000 people before.”

Braden Burk had his moment on the awards podium, where the crowd had the chance to congratulate him on his accomplishment and after the meet was over, all of the athletes attended a formal dinner with the Olympians. From there it was off to a dance that the athletes attended which lasted until midnight.

“We had to be up at 1 a.m. to ride the bus back to the airport to leave, so I just stayed up,” Braden Burk said. “It was two hours back to Philadelphia.”

So now that he’s back in Switzerland County, what did Braden Burk learn from his experiences?

“First of all I learned that I have to practice harder,” he said. “I also learned to double tie my shoes, because one of my shoelaces came undone during the race. I had a great experience, and I hope to go back next year.”