USM runner overcomes doubters to find his place

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Elijah Burton said he has always had a competitive fire within him.

Whether it was playing football with his cousin in the front yard, or racing passing cars on foot as a child, Burton constantly tries to be the best at everything he does.

The local athlete is now a member of the University of Southern Mississippi track team who competes in the 60-meter, 100-meter, 200-meter and 4X100-meter races.

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But before he was racing under the stadium lights for the Golden Eagles, Burton was a part of the Picayune Maroon Tide track and field team.

Burton said he started running competitively in the third grade.

His parents couldn’t afford to get him a bike like his friends, so instead he’d race them on foot and that’s where Burton’s athletic journey began.

“I just wanted to be fastest kid in the school. It wasn’t for the love of running, it was just because I wanted to be the fastest,” Burton said.

However, as time went on Burton began to embrace the challenge of track and field.

In 6th grade he won his first 100-meter race and that inspired him to continue down the track and field path.

Burton moved into high school hoping to earn a scholarship, but the opportunities were hard to come by.

Still, Burton believed in himself and what he could , so he walked on at USM to prove a point.

“People didn’t believe in me, so I took that and ran with it. I took my time and worked hard. Coming from me, anything is possible,” Burton said.

Burton worked at the Taco Bell in Picayune during high school, and there were times where he couldn’t find a ride to work, or his mom needed him to bring food home from work for the family.

Those tough times shaped Burton as a man and helped him become the athlete he is today.

“I’ve been through the struggle. I did whatever I had to do and whatever it took to help my family,” Burton said.

Now those days are behind him and Burton’s hard work eventually earned him a scholarship at USM.

Not only did it serve as a reminder of all the work Burton had put in over the years, but it also made those who doubted him eat their words.

“It was surreal. No lie I’ve always been doubted, but I really feel like those people made me a better runner,” Burton said.

Now enjoying success both on the track and in the classroom, Burton is looking forward to the future. He overcame numerous obstacles and persevered.

He looks to set an example for younger athletes who may not feel like they’re good enough for the next level.

“Let your failures be your successes. Go to the school you want, even if you’re a walk on. Just because you don’t have offers doesn’t mean you don’t belong at a college,” Burton said. Today, instead of racing cars on foot or keeping up with his friends on bikes, Burton is competing against top tier competition as a D1 athlete.

He wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Ever since I started running in 3rd grade, running has been what I’ve wanted to do. I love to run,” Burton said.