Race against autism is Sharpsburg officer's latest effort

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

Sharpsburg Police Officer T.J. Burke believes the only disability in life is a bad attitude.

Organizing the second annual Autism Frostbite 5K, Burke's motto is “Together We Can Overcome.”

“Intervention works, and I want to help these kids,” says Burke, 27, a Hermitage native who worked in mental health wrap-around services while attending the police academy.

After moving to Pittsburgh in 2011, Burke put together his first outing in hopes of building a connection with the community.

He raised more than $7,500 to benefit the Etna-based ABOARD Autism Connection, founded in 1996 to help children with autism reach their maximum potential.

“I wanted to keep the money local and ABOARD does so much to help the community,” he said.

This year, the Autism Frostbite 5K will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at the North Park Boat House.

Registration begins 8 a.m.; a kid's one-mile fun run will follow at 11 a.m.

Burke is hoping to top last year's total of 300 participants and already has a running start.

Boxing phenom Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has gotten behind the event with sponsorship after having last year sent a pair of autographed gloves to be auctioned off. Entertainment is slated by Ohio Hip Hop award-winner Jaymel, who recently opened up for MGK and Twista.

It's hard to imagine how Burke finds time to walk in a charity event, let alone organize one.

Burke walks the beat part-time in the borough after working full-time as a supervisor at Police Headquarters with State Security and Investigation Services in Point Breeze.

As a passion, he co-runs Positive Movementz, an effort to organize events that benefit non-profit groups throughout the region.

Last fall, Burke arranged the Pittsburgh Officers Down 5K to honor the local fallen, as well as the New Castle Art Fest 5K to coincide with a community-wide craft festival there.

Burke also partnered with the owner of the WPA Wildcatz, an indoor developmental football team, to create the Penn-Ohio Indoor Football League.

“My main goal is to give the community something to look forward to and give back in any way I can,” Burke said. “You don't have to be a millionaire to give back.”

His work with autistic children, Burke said, particularly tugs at his heart.

He worked long-term with a little boy back home who, after about a year, learned to brush his teeth, straighten his clothes and perform other typical functions.

“That's a big deal,” Burke said. “When you start with someone who doesn't even talk and after a year they can manage some important things, all because of working with you, that makes you feel good.”

Burke said the lessons worked both ways.

“It taught me a lot of patience, which in turn is good for me working as a police officer,” he said. “I react to situations a little differently than I might have before.”

For more on Burke's upcoming events, visit www.positivemovementz.com.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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