Electrical Engineering sophomore and Ann Arbor native Zach Burns brought home a silver medal from the Rio De Janeiro Summer Olympics in September as part of the US Paralympic Rowing Team. This was Zach’s third year with the team, finally getting to take on the Olympic games after two years traveling to the World Championships.
Zach raced in a boat with four others from around the country in the Legs, Trunk and Arms Four with Coxswain event. He is among seven US Para-Rowing Team athletes who made up three different crews at the Rio de Janeiro games. Zach joined the US team when he was still in high school, traveling with them to the World Championships in Amsterdam as a senior. There he helped his crew finish second against Great Britain, and did so again the following year in France.
The team to beat in Rio was again Great Britain, who won the World Championship every year since 2012. The US hoped this would be the year to best their long-time rivals, but GB made it in with a 2-second margin in the final round.
“We had a lot of speed this year, but they really had the race of their lives,” Zach says.
Even without a first-place finish, Zach found plenty to be thrilled about during his trip abroad. Experiencing the Olympic Village and meeting his competitors in his downtime were memorable, but he noted especially the atmosphere surrounding the games themselves.
“Even just going to the World Championship is a different experience, but the competition heats up in an Olympic year,” he says. “And you’re just one sport among tons of others.”
Now in his sixth year rowing, Zach is also a member of the Club Sports Men’s Rowing Team at U-M, who earned its ninth straight ACRA national championship in 2016. He started rowing to stay fit in high school, and only later learned that a left club foot he’d had corrected as a child qualified him for one category of the Paralympics.
Zach was selected for the US team following qualifiers held in Boston, Mass., and a performance at the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Team Trials in April. He trained in Boston for the three months leading up to the games, maintaining a rigorous schedule of 14-15 sessions per week.
Zach is a second-generation EE major at U-M; his dad, Joseph Burns, received his PhD here in 1987. He’s currently applying to do research with the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), and hopes that will help him decide whether he’ll pursue research in the future.
And when asked if he’ll continue to race?
“I’m taking a breather for a moment, but…it would definitely be cool to go to Tokyo in 2020.”