Holy Family pair on track to success

Two Holy Family University students broke school records at the NCAA Division II Championship.

Taurai Augustin has set eight school records at Holy Family University. Stephen Pellegrino Photography

They took different paths, but they’re both on the right track.

Holy Family University senior Taurai Augustin and sophomore Nikki Burke are both runners for the school’s track teams, and recently they provisionally qualified for the NCAA Division II Championship.

At the Fastrack National Invite at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island, New York, Augustin ran a 1:52.39 in the 800 meters. In the process, he broke his own school record.

In the same race, Burke took sixth in the 400 meters with a 56.18 seconds. Like Augustin, she broke a school record, which was previously held by Zafirah Green, who recorded a time of 58.47 seconds back in 2012.

Prior to this year, Green was the only Tiger to provisionally qualify for the NCAA Championship in school history. Green qualified for the 60-meter dash in 2012.

Making nationals is a huge accomplishment, but it’s not a product of just having a great race on one day. It’s a product of what Augustin and Burke have been doing since they arrived at Holy Family.

“I think they might be surprised at how well they’re running, but I’m not,” said Holy Family coach Dwight Brandon. “They worked really hard to get to this level, and they deserve it.”

They’ve both worked hard, but their means to qualifying were quite different.

Augustin was born in St. Lucia, where he grew up playing cricket and soccer. While he enjoyed those, he found his greatest attribute in those games was his running.

“When I was (a junior in high school), I started taking track and field very seriously,” said Augustin, who has broken eight school records during his time at Holy Family. “I like to run every event, but the 800 is my favorite because you need speed and endurance.

“I’m glad I qualified for nationals because that gives me a chance to run against the best. I like to compete against the best, that makes you run faster.”

While Augustin was honing his craft at Holy Family last year, Burke thought her career was over.

She decided to give up running. She was going to school and working as a waitress when she spoke with Brandon about giving it another chance.

It didn’t take the coach much to convince Burke to give running another shot.

“When I talked with him, I’ve had the dream of going to the Olympics, and with his training, it’s helped me become a better runner,” said Burke, who grew up in Cheltenham and now lives in Manayunk. “I don’t think anyone saw me here because of everything I went through in my life, I went through a lot. It feels really good to be here and running the way I am.”

Her talent and effort are the keys to her drop in time, but Brandon did strategically craft her workouts to help her be ready for the indoor season.

“She started out training in June, she worked hard and then went to a summer program,” Brandon said. “She was ready to compete in December, but she didn’t run in her first meet until January. And then we started her running in other events because we wanted her to get faster for the 400.”

Augustin also ran in many different races before recently competing in his favorite event.

“I like running many different events because every event helps you in other ones,” Augustin said. “I wanted to be well rounded.”

For Brandon, having runners like Augustin and Burke will only help the growth of the program.

When he took over the program and brought his assistant, Walt Smith, to the school, he figured it would be a few years before he’d have runners compete at nationals.

It’s taken only a year.

“When I made my presentation to Holy Family, I thought I could do it pretty quickly, but I didn’t think it would be this fast,” Brandon said. “A lot of it is because of my assistant, Walt Smith. I can coach 50 people, but I can’t coach 50 people at the same time. I’ve been with him for five years, and he’s a great coach.

“Having runners like Nikki and Taurai are good because they show everyone what hard work can lead to. Everybody wants to be where they’re at.”

And if you think their low times are impressive, you should see their grade point averages.

Burke, who is studying accounting, maintains a 3.6 GPA.

Augustin, who is studying biology, recently received his first B, which brought his GPA down to 3.97. After he graduates, he has big plans to stay around sports.

“I want to go to med school and eventually work as an orthopedic doctor. I think I would have a special relationship with the athletes because I can relate and connect with them. I would love to work with them to help them get better.”

In fact, both athletes are happier with their numbers off the track than on it.

“It’s hard to say which I’m prouder of because I’m working for both, but I think it’s the grade point average,” Augustin said. “I’m really proud of both, so I tell people I’m just proud of everything I’m doing (at Holy Family), but I think more people are proud of my GPA.” ••