As the world watches the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, there is one Virginia Beach Middle School eighth-grade student who recently garnered his very own Olympic gold.
Josh Burton, the fastest Special Olympics speed skater in Virginia for the past two years, competed at the end of January in the Pennsylvania State Special Olympics, which draws competitors of all ages from across the country. There, he won speed skating gold medals in the 777, 1,000 and 1,500 meters.
According to him, he took up the sport as an alternative to playing hockey because he “didn’t like chasing the puck around” but enjoyed “going fast on the ice.”
But for Burton, who has autism, winning gold was the triumphant peak of a particularly challenging year.
In May 2017, at the end of his seventh-grade year, Burton was in a serious bicycle accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The crash fractured his skull and caused several brain bleeds, which then led to Burton suffering through seizures. As a result, Burton was not able to skate all summer.
However, after being medically cleared, Burton returned to the ice in September in time to compete in the Virginia Fall State Special Olympics fall speed skating competition held in Virginia Beach. Here, too, he captured speed skating gold medals in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters.
Then, just as he was getting ready for the Special Olympics winter season of competition he was sidelined by an emergency appendectomy in November.
Through it all, he never lost his spirit.
“Giving up would just be an excuse and you would regret it immediately,” he said. “Yes, I had a fractured skull, I had seizures and I had appendicitis but I still kept going,” he said.
His advice to others today is “try not to give up.”
His mother, Eve Poteet, credits his school for helping him during his recovery.
“Yes, he has talent, but even more important, he has people that believe in him,” she added. “His teachers have helped him keep his grades up because he knows he has to be on honor roll in order to continue to miss a couple days here and there for competitions.”
In addition to competitions, Burton also joined hundreds of people in the annual Virginia Beach Polar Plunge, which benefits Special Olympics Virginia and was held in early February.
Ironically, as the Winter Olympics got underway, Josh didn’t have plans to watch – although he did tune in and was excited to see fellow speed skaters.
“I don’t really watch sports,” he said.
Instead, he would rather be out experiencing sports, mom explains.
It’s no wonder that in addition to being Virginia’s fastest Special Olympics speed skater, Burton also rollerblades and he skis on black diamonds, which are the most difficult slopes. He also golfs and is a certified advanced open water diver.
“Though he may never dive again due to his accident, he never loses hope,” his mom states.
That’s what makes this 14-year-old gold medalist a true champion.