Local Limelight: Portland
Lucy Burks is just like any other 14-year-old. Her summers in Boring, Oregon – about 15 minutes from Milo McIver State Park, home of this weekend’s PDGA National Tour stop at the Beaver State Fling – are spent swimming, and when it’s raining she likes to splash around in the mud. Her favorite subject in school is history, and she wants to be a doctor or a nurse. “A nurse actually gets the job done,” she quips.
Oh, she’s also a 773-rated junior with 20 career wins and five separate sponsorships under her belt. And this year, she’s been running a circuit of six events in her home state, where she serves not only as a player, but as tournament director.
So maybe she’s not just like any other 14-year-old, after all.
For Burks, the spotlight hasn’t been too big, the attention never too daunting. Between her outgoing, confident nature and the tutelage of her dad, Marcus, she’s made a heavy impact on her local disc golf community in the four years she’s been playing. So whether she’s standing on a table giving announcements during a players meeting or simply courting new converts during a casual round, she’s more than in her element on the course.
“We meet people everywhere,” Lucy says. “We go to disc golf courses, we see people that look like they are kids and they’re younger, or they’re people we meet across the course, and we're like, ‘Hey, you guys look really nice. Would you like to come play our tournament?’”
The kind-hearted approach has worked so far. Burks’ first event in the four-part Oregon Junior Series, which took place at Timber Park in April, drew 26 players, including six who signed up for PDGA memberships ahead of the event.
“That’s growing the sport,” Marcus says. “And four of those were girls.”
It’s not just fellow young players that Lucy has an impression on, though. Lucy’s most recent foray into tournament directing was aimed at a higher age bracket, with 80 competitors taking part in the Throw Pink Oregon II last month. The adults she meets tend to come away mystified by how articulate and passionate she is.
Sara Nicholson is the co-founder of Throw Pink, one of Lucy’s sponsors. The two first crossed paths at the 2016 Chick Flick, a women’s-only event in North Plains where Nicholson took third in the Open Women’s division and Lucy won in Junior Girls III. As Nicholson was packing up her car, she was greeted by a voice behind her, and was stunned when she turned around to see Lucy and her flock of red hair.
“She’s so charismatic,” Nicholson says. “She just walked up to me out of the blue…and was like, ‘What was your favorite part of the event?’ It kinda threw me off because it was the voice of an adult, but there’s this child standing there.”
“Maturely, I’m like 30,” Lucy admits.
According to Marcus, much of the driving force behind Lucy’s jump into running events came from her partnership with Nicholson’s organization. That support, combined with his grooming, has helped bring Lucy’s natural leadership instincts to the surface.
“One of the things they ask members of team Throw Pink is to run a tournament once a year,” Marcus says. “Lucy is the only junior that is on Throw Pink, so that was a lot of motivation.
“I’ve just been applying the same principles I’ve learned in Boy Scouts to making other people into leaders,” he adds, “and Lucy’s been kind of my victim.”
Still, Marcus is sure to give his daughter all of the credit for her own success. And when it comes time to run the events, she truly runs them. Indeed, Marcus is an assistant tournament director, but is there more for moral support than anything else.
“It’s like a round hole and a round peg: They just kinda work,” Marcus says. “I help her behind the scenes…I let her make the final decision. I try to empower her as much as possible.
“She’s out front doing everything and I’m right there by her side…You would be floored how well she does in front of the crowd. It’s absolutely amazing.”
Lucy strikes a memorable chord even when she’s just attending an event, too. She’s long been a volunteer at the Beaver State Fling – “She’s a good little ambassador for the game,” Tournament Director Jeff Mittl says – and has struck up a relationship with local pro Luis Nava that finds the two taking each other’s bag when the opportunity arises. Echoing a common theme, Nava has also found plenty of reasons to be impressed, from her willingness to learn to her strategic aptitude.
“She was caddying for me at an event at Blue Lake and we got to hole 17, and on my approach I asked my caddy, ‘Hey caddy, what should I throw here – a hyzer flip with a Leopard or Teebird? I'll let you decide, but you have to explain why,’ just to test her disc golf knowledge," Nava says. And I was so impressed with her response. She chose the Leopard because the Teebird would hyzer out early and the Leopard would have settled smoother and got a skip at the end. Pretty much threw the shot she said I would and parked it. We were so blown away about how it flew.”
“After that throw he kind of became my role model,” Lucy recalls. “I’ve gotten better because of him. He might not know it yet, but he’s my role model.”
Whether she knows it yet, Lucy has become one, too.
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