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From Haiti to Coeur d’Alene, hurdler Nate Burch takes unusual path

UPDATED: Sat., May 11, 2019

Coeur d’Alene High record-breaking hurdler Nate Burch, ranked No. 1 in 5A, is photographed with his adoptive mother Laurinda Burch at the school on Thursday.  Nate was adopted from Haiti as a young child. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Coeur d’Alene High record-breaking hurdler Nate Burch, ranked No. 1 in 5A, is photographed with his adoptive mother Laurinda Burch at the school on Thursday. Nate was adopted from Haiti as a young child. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Eighteen years after making a long and stressful trek to a Miami orphanage, Laurinda Burch points out the similarities between her and her oldest son.

A library clerk at North Idaho College, she jokes that Nate Burch, Coeur d’Alene High’s multisport standout and record-breaking hurdler, inherited her introverted disposition.

He agreed.

“Dad and my younger brothers, they’re the more extroverted ones around the house,” said Burch, who clocked in at an Idaho-best 14.24 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles at the 5A Region I track meet Friday in Lewiston.

“I’m more like my Mom. She’s pretty great.”

Laurinda didn’t give birth to Nate, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound All-Idaho defensive end. He is adopted, but avoids voicing that distinction.

“I don’t really think about it too much,” said Nate, who was adopted by Craig and Laurinda Burch when he was 8 months old. “It’s always been normal for me.”

He’s well aware of his origin, though. The tattoo of Haiti on his arm helps tell it.

Nate was born in the small Haitian city of Mirebalais in 2001. Five days after his birth, his mother died for reasons undocumented.

Haiti has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere, according to multiple reports. It’s likely she succumbed to complications from childbirth, Laurinda said.

His birth father took Nate to a nearby Haitian orphanage, requesting the child be sent to America. Craig and Laurinda, a young married couple in Idaho, were trying to have children but encountered difficulties. Adoption became their most feasible option.

“We started looking at different adoption agencies, but I was 25 years old,” Laurinda said. “Many wouldn’t adopt to anyone younger than 30.”

Haiti’s adoption program did.

Laurinda was ready to jump on the next plane upon approval, but due to civil unrest in parts of Haiti, the orphanage director agreed to meet the Burches in Miami.

She was given a photo of baby Nate being held by his birth father, a picture stored safely in their Hayden home.

“It was a nerve-racking experience,” Laurinda said of the adoption process. “But the moment we were handed Nate, I can’t even describe the release of emotion I had.”

And she was pregnant.

In the months leading to up to Nate’s adoption, Laurinda learned she was pregnant with Zach Burch, now a high school junior.

Five years later, they had their youngest son, Ben.

The three boys grew up playing sports and video games together, and attended church functions and other family activities.

Nate felt different at times, though. Adopted and in a mixed-race family, he said he was sometimes bothered by the situation early in his childhood.

“There’s always a bit of heartbreak there,” Laurinda said. “When we’d talk about which kid looks like which parent, Nate wouldn’t be mentioned. Things like that were hard.”

Nate doesn’t give much thought to that these days.

A well-liked student and one of the top athletes in the region, Nate has become a popular figure among his North Idaho peers.

“I’m so thankful for the life they’ve given me,” he said. “They’re my parents. I’m blood to them.”

Coeur d’Alene football coach Shawn Amos didn’t initially know Nate was adopted or born overseas.

Nate, who generated football recruiting interest from multiple Big Sky Conference schools, anchored the Vikings’ defensive line with a positive energy, Amos said.

“One of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet,” Amos said of Nate, the Inland Empire League Defensive Player of the Year. “He’s been around the area so long, that everyone just sees him as Nate from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, not from Haiti.”

Coeur d’Alene High and Community Colleges of Spokane hurdles coach Linda Lanker agreed.

Two years ago, Lanker, a national champion hurdler at Arizona State in the 1970s, saw Nate in Coeur d’Alene High’s weight room. She thought he had the body of a hurdler, but he was solely focused on football at the time.

Like most high school track coaches, Lanker tossed out a recruiting pitch.

“I went up to him and said, ‘When you go home tonight, YouTube hurdler Ronnie Ash and tell me if you want to do what he does,’ ” Lanker said to Nate. “He kind of looked at me funny.”

The next day, Nate reluctantly agreed to try hurdling, a pursuit that would eventually supplant football as his primary sport.

He had the frame, speed and athleticism to flourish in the 110 hurdles, but initially lacked the form and flexibility.

That came with time.

“He improved quickly,” Lanker said. “I have never seen an athlete go from starting out 16.5 seconds to 14.1 (his personal best at a Junior Olympics meet in 2018).

“I don’t even think he knows how fast he can go. That’s how fast he is.”

He has placed second at the 5A Idaho meet the past two years, broke Coeur d’Alene High’s record and is widely favored to win his first state title next week at Eagle High School.

Nate has also won back-to-back years at the Pasco Invitational, one of the most competitive high school meets in the Northwest.

Pac-12 track programs have shown interest in Nate, Lanker said, but he has signed to run the next two years close to home for Lanker at CCS.

Two more years to improve his form and increase his options. Two more years living close to his family.

Laurinda held back emotion Thursday when thinking of the baby in the picture she was given 18 years ago, and the young man he’s become today.

“It shows how adoption gives children a chance,” Laurinda said. “A chance to fulfill their purpose. I can’t imagine my life without Nate.”

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