BMA is celebrating  50 years since its inception. As we prepare for this exciting milestone, we present to you a monthly series dedicated to exploring the academy’s rich history. Tune in to learn more about “The Making of BMA” and discover the people, places, and moments that have defined North America’s first sports and ski racing academy.

Since its beginning in 1970, the academy has been home to 1,178 students including 36 who have gone on to compete in the Olympics and 145 who have been members of national teams representing the USA, Australia, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Great Britain, Japan, South Korea, and Spain. Above and beyond the athletic success of its alumni, BMA prides itself on having seen the majority of its graduates enroll in university or college programs. 

As a follow up to the first story on the GMR’s early days, we present to you a second piece about how the GMR has evolved over the past four decades and how it remains an important tradition to this day. BMA’s High Performance Director, Darrell Gray, who has been at the academy for the past 20+ years, shared the following insights.

How has GMR evolved over the years?

Wow this is a great question that I can answer with two responses. 

Part 1: Quite a bit has changed, we keep the seats in the vans, require students to wear seatbelts while the van is underway, our vans are smaller so only six runs per van, we limit the number of support runners to four and we re-routed the runs through Morrisville to avoid the ever-increasing traffic. 

Part 2: Nothing has changed! It is still the biggest event of the year for our community! Generational stories are created during each running of the GMR. We sign up for runs by seniority, vans are painted out of sight of the others, students run their lifetime fastest 200m at the beginning of their run and often fall to the side of the road after the handoff, the night runs in the cool temperatures are just as magical as ever, we run through the tunnel of hands in North Troy and finish the last mile altogether, vans get very quiet on the drive back to Burke, and everyone stumbles out of the van ready for lunch and a long sleep!

Do students run as much in the spring to prepare for GMR as Burkies did in the early days?

We run less than we used to run and we go about it a bit differently. We conduct van runs two to three mornings a week and have added VO2 intervals at the track if the opportunity presents itself. For the past several years we have had May ski camps in Quebec or elsewhere, so the running shifts location. The mountain biking is so good at Burke these days, we spend a good amount of time in the afternoons and weekends out on Kingdom Trails.

How do students currently choose which segment they will run?

We still select by Seniority. One of the only things we do by that standard. The longest-tenured senior picks first and we work our way down to the freshest faced freshman.

How has BMA adopted new event safety guidelines all the while keeping the GMR spirit?

Yes. Traffic has increased over the years and we had to make adjustments. We limit support runners to 4 people to keep the road less crowded. The white line is enforced with vigor! The biggest change was re-routing the run along Stage Coach Road to bypass Morrisville. The new runs are beautiful and we all wondered why we hadn’t run through this section of Vermont in the first place.

What’s the impact of GMR on the BMA community? How does this compare with other school traditions? 

Along with Physical Testing, it has a long, long tradition. If Physical Testing were considered the buy-in to the Burke Community, then the GMR is the payoff. The GMR is the culminating event at Burke and signals the end of that particular year’s community. Graduation usually occurs the week after GMR.  That week after GMR, it feels like our flight is coming in for a landing.

Who are the current record holders for each run segment? What’s the longest standing record?

Not sure about the oldest record, but if your name is Liz Stephen ’05 you have 5 records (she ran as an 8th grader)! Corrine Prevot ’09 is second for the women, with three records. On the men’s side, Jamie Reigle ’95 and Robbie Pedersen ’87 each have four records and Mark Bonnell ’88 has three. To take on those runs with an aim to put your name on the record list is a very, very tall order. Here is a link to all of the records.

Do you have a special GMR memory that stands out from all your years at BMA?

I loved running with as many folks as I could. Now I’m more of a cheerleader. My most vivid running memory was during the Waterfall Run. Perfect darkness, quiet rain and only the sounds of feet kissing the wet pavement. Getting the run stopped by the Windsor County Police and riding in the car with the Chief was pretty fun! Tara Martin ’03 was on a record setting pace when we pulled up beside her and told her to stop running! A van broke down one year and we piled that van into another. 30 people in the van and a State Trooper pulled us over. All he asked was that we clean off the paint from the brake lights and license plate! I could spend hours telling stories. There are many, many stories to be told and retold and added to, so much so, that the facts sometimes get a little blurry. At Burke, who’d want facts to get in the way of a good story anyway?

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted this year’s GMR? What are the plans?

2020 marks only the second time we have not run the GMR since its inception. The first cancellation was after Hurricane Irene.  Route 100 and several of the access points were still under re-construction. No one would have considered the events that have caused this year’s cancellation. 

We will not try to replicate the GMR virtually this year. The Senior class describes the GMR as a shared community experience. Much of the GMR storytelling comes from your time out of your running shoes. So this year the Seniors are leading a “choose your own adventure” on Memorial Day. Their charge to the community is to pick something you are passionate about and go for it during an 8-hour window. The day is also providing a fundraising challenge with donations directed to the Vermont Food Bank.

When I spoke to the Seniors about a possible Virtual GMR, I totally got their reaction. It’s not possible to replace the GMR. The GMR is a one of a kind experience that somehow repeats itself each spring. I used to look at GMR as an athletic event, how fast and how far can you run? I now look at it much differently. I’ve pulled my perspective back just enough to see how blessed and proud I am to be part of a community whose members love each other so well.