By Preston Williams
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, NY: In early March of 2014, a raging storm swept through Niagara University. The power went out, the roads were icy, and the air was frigidly cold. The snow tore through the campus, but that wasn’t the strongest storm to hit that night.
A bigger, national storm was brewing within the social media website, Twitter. The hands of Niagara University Students all over campus were ferociously typing tweet after tweet praising the man who has become a legend, Thomas Burns. He is credited for having been the reason classes were cancelled for two days at Niagara University. As the night went on, however, he was credited for far more than that.
Thomas Burns quickly became a pseudo-action hero, almost godly persona. Throughout the night, students sent out tweets that ranged from thankful to downright bizarre. They included such tweets as, “I’m not saying he’s batman but nobody has seen #ThomasBurns and batman in the same place” and “#ThomasBurns doesn’t call the wrong number, you answer the wrong phone.” All of these tweets prompted the “#ThomasBurns” tag to be internationally trending, spreading Niagara University’s purple pride all over the internet.
“He’s the new Chuck Norris,” said Nate Miller, one of the first students to add the “#ThomasBurns” tag to his tweets. “He’s a god. It’s funny because I know him and it wasn’t even his call.”
So who is Thomas Burns really? While these tweets would lead to believe that he’s the second coming of Christ, he is actually the Associate Vice President for Public Relations, Communications and Marketing at Niagara University. Due to that, it is one of his many responsibilities to alert the students when there is a campus wide closure. He is a man like any other and, despite some posts claiming he was sent from heaven, holds a Master of Business Administration from Medaille College. Burns also has a heart for charity.
Thomas Burns was hailed as a hero on twitter for achievements he never really accomplished. What many people don’t know is that he deserves even more attention for his real life feats. Burns is an avid runner and enjoys keeping himself busy with it. Unfortunately, he suffered a heart attack last March after completing the annual Shamrock Run held in Buffalo. That would be enough to stop most people but, less than a year later he was already training to run it again; he said that if for no other reason, he wanted to be able to say to himself, “I’m back.” This time, however, he wasn’t running for himself.
Thomas Burns never gave up; he didn’t even consider giving up his 13 years of running because of one heart attack. “One of the questions I had for the cardiologists while I was in the hospital after the heart attack was “Will I be able to run again?” They answered yes.”
“I enjoy running,” said Burns. “It gives me a great sense of accomplishment.” This sense of accomplishment is not limited to running, however. Not only has he been a youth sports coach for many years, he generally just loves people.
“I would say that I take great joy in helping people, and I enjoy sports and fitness; so much of my community service has been in this area,” Burns said. “I take great pride in helping people in these endeavors.”
This is where his real heroism lies; Thomas Burns began raising money through the American Heart Association’s (AHA) “FUNraising” website. To date, Burns has raised over $5,000 and is the top “FUNraiser” on the website. All of this money goes straight to the AHA for research into heart health and medicine. This includes work aimed to help those who have suffered from a heart attack and research into heart cancer. This is what a true hero is and this is what Thomas Burns should truly be thanked for.
This wasn’t even the only time Burns raised money for a cause.
“In my early years of running, I asked people to pledge a penny for every mile I would run in a year,” Burns said. “Through that I raised a few thousand dollars over the course of 2-3 years, and made donations to the YMCA, YWCA, the Wellness Institute, and other youth sports organizations.”
Thomas Burns is a truly modest man and a strong Catholic. He thanks God for everything he has and everything he is and that takes a rare type of humility. Thomas Burns lives for his family, God, and helping others and that’s what truly makes him a hero.
Photo Credit: Michael Freedman