July 23, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
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Lifetime adventurist inducted to county Sports Hall of Fame

He’s gone by Rick, Ricky and Richard Burton over the years.

He’s been called indestructible, individualistic, imaginative, intense, interesting and intelligent, to stick with words that start with the same letter.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY RON SCHWANE

He was the first four-time state placer in Medina County prep wrestling history while at Highland, winning the Class AA state title at 126 pounds as a junior to help the Hornets capture the 1981 state team championship, then repeating as champion at 132 pounds as a senior.

Now 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, 48 years old and a resident of Hawaii since 1996, he has bicycled from Ohio to Colorado, hiked in the Andes Mountains, camped along the Amazon River, cooked for former President George H.W. Bush, been trained as a machinist, owned a bakery and worked as a control systems integration expert, a UV light technician, on an assembly line, as an Audi salesman and on a missile defense system.

Whether he’s called Rick, Ricky or Richard, Burton is also now going into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame, his induction ceremony to take place June 13 at The Galaxy Restaurant in Wadsworth.

“I haven’t thought of wrestling in a long time,” Burton said recently in a phone interview from Honolulu. “It hardly ever comes up. I have so many things in front of me, I don’t have time to drift around and think in the past.”

Two-time titlist

Burton’s father Bob — he will also be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame this year as the Al Thomas Award winner for his long list of contributions to the sport of wrestling — and mother Morgan are black belts in taekwondo.

Burton grew up attending their classes and learned all the moves and skills they were doing, but never tested for any belts. Having the skills he picked up be recognized by someone else simply wasn’t important, even back then.

One of those people who is more concerned with the process and pursuit of a goal than the actual accomplishment of it — the latter just means it is time to move on to something else — Burton learned early on to think independently, to pursue any dream he had and to work harder and be tougher than anyone around him.

“He never had any pain whatsoever,” said 1981 Highland graduate Todd Winter, who finished third in the state in the 132-pound weight class as a senior and now lives in Broadview Heights. “He would block all that out on the mat like it was nonexistent. He just turned into a person from another planet.

“Plus, he had so much confidence. That’s the other part of it.”

As a wrestler — and even today as a person — Burton’s confidence was so great it bordered on cockiness. He finished fourth in the state at 103 pounds as a freshman and fourth again at 112 as a sophomore before going on to join 1971 Highland graduate Don Tomko as the only two-time state champs in county history at the time.

“He had so much mental and physical toughness,” said Winter, who actually beat an ill Burton in a wrestle-off early in the 1980-81 season. “When he walked onto the mat, you just knew he was going to beat the crap out of someone. We all knew it.”

The 1981 Class AA state champion Highland team had an amazing array of talent and personalities, as Jeff Miller (155) joined Burton as a state titlist, while Ron Leonard (98) and Tim Timmons (145) were second and Winter was third.

The Hornets were not one-year wonders, either, as they finished third in the state when Burton was a freshman, second when he was a sophomore and fourth when he was a senior.

“We all had that part of us that said, ‘We’re Highland and we’re going to beat your (butt),’” said Winter, who went on to have a highly successful wrestling career at Ashland. “That’s how we walked into places. Everybody knew we were there. We made sure they saw us coming.”

Burton, who finished 26-6 as a freshman, 28-6-1 as a sophomore, 18-0 as a junior and 32-3 as a senior for a career record of 104-15-1, almost didn’t get his first state title.
Early in his junior season, his left ankle snapped while he was practicing.

“I carried him out of the room,” remembered Miller, a 1981 Highland graduate who wrestled at Cleveland State for three years and now lives in Arizona. “He just said, ‘I broke it. I heard it break.’ I picked him up, carried him to the locker room and they called an ambulance and took him away.”

Burton was back wrestling six weeks later.

“I thought I could beat anybody with one broken leg,” he said. “I had a lot of confidence, so I didn’t feel like it was going to stop me.”

It didn’t. Burton won his first state title by dominating Elyria Catholic’s Jim Wukie 7-0 in their 126-pound final.

“It wasn’t a relief or anything,” he said. “I felt I deserved it.”

The next year, Burton added another title, downing Fairview’s David Byrne 1-0 in the 132 final. A week earlier, Burton had beaten Byrne 7-3 for the district title.

After high school, Burton wrestled at Ohio State, where he earned All-America honors as a freshman by finishing sixth in the nation at 134 pounds.

Burton then started suffering more injuries, including a busted bursa sac in his knee, and quit the sport.

“I had had my fill of wrestling at that time,” he said bluntly.

As it turns out, that was just the beginning of what has become a lifetime of non-stop adventure for Burton.

“Rick was out there,” said Miller, who like Winter hasn’t talked to Burton in more than 20 years. “He was a little different.”

Lifetime adventurist

Burton has done so many things and gone so many places since his days at Ohio State — he never did earn a degree — that there’s not enough space in this paper to fully chronicle them all.

It doesn’t help that he’s such a workaholic that it took multiple emails and phone calls over a 10-day period just to get him to sit still long enough to conduct a 25-minute interview from Honolulu.

Once that was arranged, the next task was getting the always-moving-forward Burton, who has been married for 10 years to wife Chiung-Ko of Taipei and has a 7-year-old daughter named Amelia, to look back at his life.

“I’ve got so much on my plate out here, I’m just constantly going forward,” he said. “I’m full on.”

That said, we managed to piece together a Cliffs Notes version of some of the things Burton has done from the early 1980s to the present, though there is no guarantee they are listed in chronological order.

After eventually dropping out of Ohio State, Burton went on a series of long bicycle rides, including several from Ohio to North Carolina and one from Ohio to Colorado. Even when Burton was in college and wanted to return to Northeast Ohio for the weekend, he often made the 120-mile trip on his bike.

“It’s something I still enjoy,” he said. “I bet I rode 6,000 miles last year.”

There was also a trip to Peru to climb the Andes, camping trips along the Amazon and work as a trained pastry chef, which led to a brief career as a private chef for what Burton called “some very wealthy people.”

Seventeen years ago, Burton went to Hawaii with his mother.

“She left,” he said, “and I never did. It’s sunny every single day. The temperature hardly ever varies. I’m surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and there’s fish as big as you.

“Every island has something different and there’s tons of cultures mixed together, so it’s an endless supply of adventure and fun.”

Finding employment has never been an issue for Burton, who works extremely hard and, if it’s possible, plays even harder.

There was a job as a control systems integration expert in which he helped run the bottling company for Pepsi and the assembly line for Love’s Bakery.

There has been work as a UV light technician and consultant, on a missile defense system located between Hawaii and Korea and as an Audi car salesman, with many of Burton’s myriad jobs over the years overlapping.

Despite all that work, Burton still finds time to spend with his wife and daughter, go on solo camping trips or long bike rides when he needs to get away from it all and dream of new adventures.

“I’m a free spirit,” he said. “I’ve always been that way. I have a confidence level that is unbelievable. It’s not being cocky. It’s a learned process.”

Asked what role, if any, wrestling played in that, Burton said, “All those years I was wrestling, I thought I was just physical. Then I realized I was using my head so much and I was smart.

“Every win and every defeat I had along the way built my self-esteem. I believed I could do things. I understood the process of how to accomplish something. I realized I could size something up, train myself and do it step by step. I realized I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.