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Always in seventh heaven

By AARON PAITICH, Special to the Star Tribune, 07/07/12, 6:30PM CDT

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The 7-event heptathlon fits Lakeville South's Shaina Burns' personality quite nicely.


Lakeville South junior Shaina Burns competed in the hurdles in a heptathlon competition. The heptathlon is not recognized as a Minnesota State High School League event. Submitted photo

To get a sense of how driven heptathlete Shaina Burns is, consider her reaction upon returning from the USA Youth Outdoor Championships in Arlington, Texas, on Monday.

"It was all right," said Burns, a junior this fall at Lakeville South. "I didn't have the best performances, but I still walked away with five medals."

She won the heptathlon national title for the third consecutive year and medaled in four individual events -- all in 100-degree heat or higher.

In Minnesota, high schools do not recognize the seven-armed beast -- 100-meter hurdles, 200 dash, 800 run, long jump, high jump, shot put and javelin -- as an official event.

That means Burns, motivated to chase her dreams, she needs to travel. A lot.

Before the championship in Texas, Burns competed in the New Balance High School National Championships in Greensboro, N.C., where she finished third with 4,706 points and earned All-America honors for the second time. She left again on Wednesday for Oshkosh, Wis., to compete in the Junior Olympic regional championships.

"You do get a little bit homesick if you have to go weeks without seeing your friends or being home, but it's still fun. It's an adventure," said Burns, who helped lead Lakeville South to a Class 2A state team title this past spring.

Burns has overcome numerous barriers and established herself as one of the nation's best among high school-age heptathletes. ESPN recently bumped her up two spots from No. 4 to No. 2 among its top U.S. heptathlon prospects for the 2013 World Youth Championships.

Burns' mom, Luonna, is a former Minnesota State Mankato heptathlete who serves as experienced mentor, motivator, travel companion and lifelong friend watching over her.

"It's really cool because she kind of gets to be my coach in the summer," Shaina said. "She knows from experience. She's not just an outsider looking in. She can personally put in her own input and know how things work. She's been through some of the same things."

Luonna knew her daughter would be perfect for the event. Once Shaina tried the pentathlon at age 13, she was hooked. It just became part of her lifestyle and it fit her personality.

"She's a workaholic," Luonna said of her daughter, who also somehow finds time to play tennis and basketball for the Cougars. "We have to rein her in all the time. She'd work around the clock if she could, if her body would last that long."

Being a good heptathlete means excelling at a little bit of everything.

"You can't just be fast, you have to be a good technician. You have to run an 800 hard. You have to be strong enough to throw the shot put," Luonna said. "There's so many different elements and athleticism."

Burns hopes her commitment, hard work and travel all pay off in the form of a selection to Team USA for the 2013 World Youth Games, which will be held in Ukraine for 16- and 17-year-olds. She will compete in the World Youth Trials next summer in St. Louis to try and qualify.

Burns and her mother have recently found key areas for improvement in several events.

"In high school, she's never done less than four events. That's just her mentality -- compete, recover, compete, recover," Luonna said. "That suits her well. It suits her mentality to have another challenge and another chance. I think she'd be lost if she had one event to do."

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