Stars of Sochi: Petty Officer First Class Kevin Burton

A Paralympics Profile

Sochi, Russia – On March 7, Fisht Olympic Stadium will host the opening ceremonies of the XI Paralympic Winter Games. Competitors in 10 disability categories will compete in five events—and Team Semper Fi athlete Kevin Burton (visually impaired) will be representing Team USA in Nordic skiing. For details about televised coverage of the Paralympics, please see this press release.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Burton (Visually Impaired) - Nordic/Biathlon.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Burton (Visually Impaired) – Nordic/Biathlon.
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Kevin Burton spent nearly a decade in the Navy, serving from 2002 until retiring as Petty Officer First Class in 2011 three years after learning he has retinitis pigmentosa. The degenerative eye disease has thus far cost Kevin his peripheral vision, which means he has night blindness, and reduced his central vision to about five percent—which means Kevin sees the world the way most people would if they were peeking through a pinhole.

He’ll be in Sochi next month, representing Team USA and competing in Nordic skiing in the XI Paralympic Winter Games.

“It’s all still a bit surreal,” Kevin says. “I’m guessing the magnitude and reality of the situation will set in when Sochi arrives. Every day when I see my teammates and fellow competitors, I am amazed by them and honored that I get to be on the same course competing against them. I never thought growing up that I would ever reach this level of competition in sports. It gives you a lot of confidence and shows you how much you can accomplish if you work hard and dedicate yourself to something.”

Kevin has shown an incredible amount of dedication to get where he is today: Less than two years ago, he had been on cross-country skis just once in his life. Now he’s part of Team U.S.A. in the Paralympics after representing the U.S. in two World Cups.

“Some of my family members were hesitant when I told them I was leaving school to train for Sochi, even though I had very little experience on cross-country skis,” Kevin recalls. “As they saw how much I enjoyed skiing and how much healthier I was getting, they started coming around. Then, after seeing the hard work paying off with me being named to my first World Cup team and Sochi becoming a very real possibility, they were completely behind me.”

While Kevin’s athletic prowess has won him eight National Championships and six World Cup medals, he acknowledges the part others—including spectators—have played in his success.

“It always helps when you hear people cheering you on,” Kevin says. “It also helps that I ski with a guide so I always have someone to chase. When things get really tough, I just focus on my guide’s feet and worry about one stride at a time. Due to the nature of my vision, when I do that I don’t see what is around me, how fast I am going or how far I have left to go. I just keep taking that next step until all of a sudden I’m at the top of the hill or across the finish line.”

“I would never have been able to continue my athletic career without some organizations who have helped me along the way, financially and in other ways,” Kevin adds. “The U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, the VA and Ignite Adaptive Sports at Eldora were huge parts of me learning to ski and getting me hooked on being out in the snow. As my career progressed, Team Semper Fi has been amazing in their support. I’d encourage everyone to help support organizations such as these and to take part in their programs, as athletes or as volunteers.”