When not out saving lives, Shay Burke enjoys time in the boxing ring

To say that Burke enjoys physical activities is a big understatement.

In addition to boxing, the 30-year-old snowboards, rides motorcycles, rides mountain bicycles and enjoys "pretty much any thing that is outdoors."

Boxing is, of course, primarily indoors, but it brings the same sort of physical challenge as his other activities, and he is good at it. Good enough to be ranked No. 1 nationally in competition among police officers and firefighters.

He recently won the United States middleweight (165 pounds) championship in a big Badges vs. Badges competition in Sacramento.

His opponent in the championship match was Ricky Stuart, a firefighter from Big Bear City, who trained with Sugar Shane Mosely for three weeks prior to the fight. In his previous tournament, Stuart KO'd all three of his opponents.

Burke unanimously won all three rounds.

Burke was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, but grew up in Petaluma, graduating from Petaluma High School, where he wrestled and played football.

He has been boxing since he was 14, initially training at the American Made Boxing Club in Santa Rosa. He boxed in the Junior Olympics and won the Northern California Diamond Belt.

After Petaluma High, he made a decision that would shape his life — he began training to be a firefighter/paramedic at Santa Rosa Junior College. After completing his training, he ultimately landed a job with the Petaluma Fire Department doing what he truly loves to do — helping others.

A great job for him got even better when he discovered he could continue boxing in the police and firefighters' competitions.

After his recent success, he is back at work at the Double Punches Boxing Club, training with Richard Lopez in pursuit of his ultimate goal of boxing in the World Police and Firefighters' Games.

The Petaluman says that many of the same qualities that make a good firefighter/paramedic make a good boxer.

There is one big difference. As a firefighter/paramedic, you are a part of a team. In the ring, no matter how many supporters you have, it is just you and your opponent.

"To get very far in boxing, you have to believe in yourself," he says. "When you are in the ring, you have only yourself to rely on."

Just as in his physically demanding profession, boxer Burke has to be in top condition. Endurance is absolutely the key. You have to be in great shape," he says.

There is much more that goes into boxing — Burke mentions footwork, angles, strength and speed.

You also have to know that you are going to get hit.

"I get hit more in the gym than I do in a fight," he says. "You get used to being hit. You learn how to take a punch."

While Burke thoroughly enjoys boxing, he has no plans on a ring career outside of the police and firefighters' competition. He is totally devoted to his job as a firefighter/paramedic.

"It is my passion," he says. "It is different every day. There is a real adrenaline rush when you get a call."

Not that it is easy.

"You have to test yourself," he says. "There is always a lot to learn, and it takes a lot of dedication."

Burke is single, although he has a girlfriend. He is the son of Rory Burke and Susan Stewart, both of whom live in Petaluma, and the grandson of longtime Petaluma residents Helen and Fran Burke.

(Contact John Jackson at acsports@arguscourier.com)