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Former YSU trainer has opportunity in China

Todd Burkey had student-athletes enter his training room at Youngstown State University for the past two decades as the 1990 South Range High School graduate provided treatment so each one could maintain their prowess on the field of play.

Burkey said he’s had “tremendous memories,” working with men’s basketball players like Vytas Sulskis, Ashen Ward, Kendrick Perry and Quin Humphrey. He also remembers football players from the football team’s Division I-AA national semifinal run such as Tommy Zetts, Marcus Mason and James Terry. There are many athletes Burkey has worked with over the years at YSU, an institution he graduated from in 1994 with a degree in exercise science, but too numerous to list here.

Game-winning shots on Beeghly Center’s floor. Game-saving tackles on Stambaugh Stadium’s turf. Those visuals from the sidelines were impactful, but nothing compared to the ordinary as some would explain.

“It was the day-to-day,” Burkey said. “It was getting to know them, know their families, being able to work with them and have them work and want to.”

Those day-to-day moments are what led him to China, a place where the former YSU assistant athletic trainer will spend the next year-and-a-half of his life working with the Chinese National Hockey Team as the team’s Director of Rehabilitation and Performance. He’ll be in charge of sports medicine and strength and conditioning.

Burkey, 48, taught exercise science students and performed physical rehabilitation and training on Chinese athletes in 2018. He worked with some Chinese national basketball players at the Olympic Training Center in Beijing, the site of the 2022 Winter Olympics, and presented lectures at other cities around China. Burkey talked about flexibility and mobility to designing running programs to weightlifting techniques.

The reason he made the trip in the summer of 2018 was a former YSU graduate assistant, Qian Zhang, who Burkey befriended while Zhang was in Youngstown.

Burkey’s stint in China runs through the 2022 Winter Olympics, which ends Feb. 20, 2022.

“It all came about by being good to somebody,” Burkey said of Zhang. “He struggled with language. He struggled with other things I helped him with. He ended up coming to my house, eating dinner with my family and becoming part of my family. I wouldn’t let him quit, although he wanted to. He finished the program and always told me, ‘I want to bring you to China.’ He came through on that.”

Burkey taught exercise science classes at YSU, along with the masters of athletic training program.

“I’ve been around a lot of young people,” he said. “Hopefully I’ve helped them. I learned just as much from them. That’s what makes me stronger and better for taking this risk. It’s a big jump.”

YSU men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun said Burkey was an unsung hero for the Penguins athletic programs and will be missed, especially with the men’s basketball program.

“For him to change his career path this late in life and experience something like going to China and working with the national team is a reward for him for the amount of time he spent at YSU,” Calhoun said. “I was very sad that he was leaving because you get close to someone and you spend a lot of time with an individual. At the same time, you’re happy for him because it’s something that he wants to do. I think it’s a great opportunity for him.”

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