Olivia Burne '14 Speeds Towards Success
Stony Brook University senior Olivia Burne likes nothing better than a little R&R — reporting and running, that is. The track and cross-country phenomenon and journalism major from New Zealand enjoys a peripatetic lifestyle, which both disciplines afford.
“I have been running since childhood, participating in school cross-country races and eventually doing some small training runs,” she said. “But I didn’t really start loving to run until I was in high school.” Olivia received distance-training programs from her coach and she and her father would spend hours on Saturday mornings, exploring the countryside, running and talking. “I think that was when I started to love running — when I realized how peaceful the training was and how therapeutic it could be,” she said.
Olivia was bitten by the journalism bug much later. “I really didn’t start to enjoy it until I came to Stony Brook and saw the lifestyle of a reporter,” she said. “It’s the perfect career for the innately curious, and it doesn’t involve much in-house work. You’re constantly out and about interviewing and talking to people. You meet such a variety of people and see so many places and learn so much about the world around you. It’s hard not to love it.”
Why would anyone relocate more than 8,000 miles away from her homeland to attend college? “I met up with the twins Holly and Lucy Van Dalen [who are Stony Brook alums] at our national cross-country championships,” said Olivia, “and heard them chatter away about Stony Brook. When I asked them what their favorite thing about the college was, both of them said, “Andy [Ronan], our coach. Also, when you’re given the chance to receive a free education, live in another country and pursue your sport — it would be hard to turn that down.”
Ronan lived up to his billing in Olivia’s opinion. “I could always trust what Andy had to say about running and training — if he says that you can do a time, there’s no denying it will happen — it’s as if he has a sixth sense.”
That sixth sense has helped guide Olivia to an America East individual title in each of the past four seasons, including her most recent indoor championship in the women’s outdoor 1,500 meters on May 4 at the University of Vermont.
“She has accomplished many things during her four years,” said Ronan, “including four conference titles, winning one in each season (cross country, indoor and outdoor track), but reaching the championships this past indoor track season in the mile would be very high on the list.” She was named second-team All-American by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association based on her performance at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in March.
Ronan credits the Van Dalens and teammate Dana Hastie ’08 with being the catalysts for the high level at which Olivia competes. “They had a big influence on her career, just like she is having on the career of Christina Melian ’16, the next student-athlete who [has the potential to] attain the results Olivia has achieved academically and athletically,” said Ronan.
Olivia has been on the dean’s list for seven consecutive semesters, earning a 3.84 GPA. Among her other scholastic achievements, she has been a three-time America East Scholar-Athlete, America East All-Academic selection, six-time Commissioner’s Honor Roll selectee and a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Scholar Athletic Award.
Another mentor is Barbara Selvin, a professor in the School of Journalism. “She encouraged me to pursue the challenging stories and to give a voice to people whom most people might dismiss,” said Olivia, who freelances for an off-campus newspaper and served as photo and online editor for The Stony Brook Press.
“Passion drives Olivia’s journalism,” said Selvin. “She chooses projects that allow her to tell the stories of people from the forgotten corners of American society: the gang members, the poor, the addicted. She also gets to know the people who work with these troubled people and try to help them: the police officers and officials who work to steer them into productive lives.”
Olivia is also courageous, said Selvin. “She goes to parts of Long Island where crime is high and violence is a part of life, places where many others fear to go. Her magazine-length reports on Wyandanch and other troubled communities have set a high standard for other journalism students to meet.”
Although both are demanding pursuits, running and reporting complement each another, Olivia said. “The two fields balance each other out nicely. I am able to focus on my studies and reporting, which means that I don’t think about running too much. For a runner, thinking can be one of the worst traits — paralysis by analysis — as coach Ronan will often say. And I often race better when it is preceded by a particularly stressful and full week of work.”
The best of both worlds may be in her future — at least initially. “When I go back to New Zealand,” said Olivia, “I will be taking up a communications internship with the New Zealand Olympic Committee, where I will be creating press releases and working with athletes. After that, I plan to attend law school in New Zealand, and hopefully, one day work in post-prison youth rehabilitation.”
—By Glenn Jochum