One Woman, Several Roles

Nicole Burdiek and her son Logan

June 28, 2011

The following story was written by K-State rower Amanda Weishaar for one of her journalism classes this spring. It captures her teammate Nicole Burdiek's journey of being a student-athlete and mother.

By Amanda Weishaar

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Hanna Wiltfong attempted to distract herself by preparing dinner. Her college roommate, Nicole Burdiek, had just entered the bathroom with a box of pregnancy tests in hand.

“I was waiting for a victory yell or happy sounds of relief that I was sure would follow her taking the test,” Wiltfong said. “Those sounds never came.”

Wiltfong sunk down to the kitchen floor sobbing, unsure if she should comfort her friend or give her time to think. Her feelings of helplessness were interrupted when Burdiek came out of the bathroom holding a test stick, after having taken every test in the box.

“It’s not supposed to be this color,” Burdiek said.

Burdiek, a sophomore student-athlete on the Kansas State women’s rowing team, was in shock. Her first coherent thoughts immediately focused on the future. How would she tell her parents? Would she lose her rowing scholarship? Would she be able to finish school? Burdiek was faced with a major life decision at age 19.

Her parents cycled through the expected reactions to the news. They tried to comfort their scared daughter, were angry and disappointed about her irresponsible behavior and worried for her future.

“They tried to make sure I found out what it’s really like to be a parent and had me talk to a teen mom in our neighborhood,” Burdiek said.

Despite being briefed on all her possible options, including counseling, abortion and adoption, she knew her decision from the very beginning. She was going to have the baby.

Afraid to lose her scholarship, she continued training with the rowing team a month and a half after discovering she was pregnant. She decided to let the coaching staff know her predicament at the end of fall semester. Burdiek, who has a 6-foot athletic frame, comes across as the strong, silent type to those who do not know her. Head Coach Patrick Sweeney, a 5-foot, snarky, brutally honest, but highly reasonable British man said with a grin, “I think the first time she spoke to me was when she told me she was pregnant.”  

When Burdiek committed to having a child, she thought her rowing career was over. Even though she believed her plea was futile, she shared with the coaches her desire to stay on the team and compete after the baby was born.

“As a coach it’s annoying because it messes things up a bit, changing the plan that we’d been working toward,” Sweeney said. “But things happen and at the time we were in a position to help, so why shouldn’t we?”

Burdiek remained on the team during and after her pregnancy. She was able to keep her scholarship by doing administrative work as a rowing office aide.

Logan James Sparks was born July 29, 2009. The healthy 8 pound, 11 ounce baby boy had fine brown hair and blue eyes like his mom. Physically seeing her child reassured Burdiek that this was real life. She was a mother.

“My brain was overwhelmed. I was just trying to get used to having him and taking care of him,” Burdiek said. “I was surprised they took him at night. I only saw him to eat. He wasn’t with me all the time and I missed him already.”

The love and support of family and friends to help care for Logan was evident, but his father has been absent for much of his life. Logan’s father was barely involved during Burdiek’s pregnancy, so his behavior after Logan’s birth did not come as a surprise. He rarely called or offered to help or visit. When he did, often times he did not follow through.

“I don’t want Logan to grow up thinking his dad is a bad person,” Burdiek said. “But I can’t place him in a situation where he is consistently let down. I just have to focus on what is best for Logan and surround him with all the love that I can.”

Nicole’s mother, Jeanette Burdiek, is not worried about the absence of Logan’s father affecting her grandson.

“Nikki’s brothers and dad provide guy time for Logan, so Logan has male figures in his life that are good examples.”

Logan gets to visit grandma and grandpa Burdiek often at their Emporia, Kan., home. He stays with his grandparents when his mother competes.

“When we travel to race I always feel like he’s going to be mad at me and not understand why I’m gone,” Nicole Burdiek said.

Although he may be angry with her for a while, she is comforted by getting to surround Logan with love from his extended family. In return, her family enjoys spoiling him. “Grandpa wants to turn Logan into a little farm boy,” Jeanette Burdiek said.

As Nicole Burdiek reflects about the past year and a half, her son giggles with satisfaction as he successfully connects two fridge magnets. She admits she has changed since having a child.

“Before Logan I lived more in the moment. I would go out, do what I want, party. I didn’t care as much about the future,” Burdiek said. “After he was born it seemed like an instinct. I became more responsible, cared more about the future and finding a job to financially support him.”  

Friends and family have noticed a change in her as well.

“Logan has helped her, made her more driven,” Jeanette Burdiek said. “She is very disciplined.”

Even though she has matured, she still knows how to have a good time.

“She is still the same witty, sarcastic, fun loving girl she has always been,” Wiltfong said.

Now fun for Burdiek consists of baking, playing with her son at the park or reading him a bedtime story.

Motherhood closely correlates with her career aspirations. She is a dual major in psychology and family studies and human services. In her future occupation she hopes to help kids who need to be placed in a healthy environment to lead a happy life.

“I want to work with kids because they are virtually helpless,” Burdiek said. “I want to be their voice.”

Whether her job is in clinical psychology, counseling or human resources for families, her experience as a mother is a great basis of understanding for working with children.

Burdiek’s pregnancy resulted in her being a year behind other rowers her age. Sweeney said she is closing the gap and catching up this year. She raced in the 2nd Varsity 8 boat during the spring season and was a constant contender to take a 1st Varsity position. She has the seventh fastest 2k ergometer test score on the team (a solo 2,000 meter race on a rowing machine) and achieved her personal record time this year. She said she is in the best shape of her life.

All of these accomplishments are attributed to her tireless work ethic and dedication. Not only does she have to schedule workouts between classes and homework, she has to juggle daycare hours and Logan’s illnesses as well.

“She understands what is required of her and she’s doing her utmost to meet those standards,” Sweeney said. “She knows she won’t get preferential treatment because she has a kid.”

Socially, she has started to be more involved with the team and coaching staff, something Sweeney believes would have happened naturally last year without her time away.

“My row girls are a great support system. I always have a babysitter,” Burdiek said of her teammates.

The athletic department and her fellow student-athletes voted Burdiek as the Most Inspirational Athlete at the 2011 Powercat Choice Awards, an annual awards banquet recognizing outstanding student-athletes at K-State. Based on the voting criteria, Burdiek was selected because she best exemplifies a student-athlete who demonstrates heart, determination and perseverance and is characterized by major progress or improvement and/or overcoming adversity, all while maintaining a positive energy and attitude.

When initial nominations took place within the rowing team, teammate Christa Bowman playfully approached Burdiek and gave her a hug after the votes were tabulated and announced.

“I almost forgot to vote for you because you never complain about anything,” Bowman said.

Burdiek has brought a unique little person into this world. Not surprisingly Logan is a momma’s boy who enjoys stories, singing and playing with his mother. He also shares many similar personality traits with her.

“Like his mom, Logan observes a lot and knows when to be outgoing and when to settle down and absorb things,” long time friend AnnaYoung said. He is also quite an entertainer, always trying to get laughs.

By his size, Logan already shows athletic promise, wearing 3-year-old clothing more than a year early. In addition to sports, Burdiek hopes he takes his studies seriously in the future. His intelligence is already apparent when he uses baby sign language to ask for milk. Overall, she dreams that her son is healthy and happy and she vows to do whatever it takes to insure he has the best life possible.

Somehow she manages to balance life as a student-athlete and single mother, rarely relying on help from others.

“She is very private but she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her,” Young said. “She likes to do everything on her own, without help, as much as she can.”

Ultimately, Burdiek and her family and friends cannot imagine a world without Logan.

“My first reaction couldn’t have been more wrong about Nicole getting pregnant,” Wiltfong said.“ Instead of baby Logan being the worst thing that could happen to her, he became the best thing that has happened to all of us.”