Joshua Burd used to view running as a form of punishment.
An athlete who was subject to being ordered to run if his team did something wrong, it took some time before he embraced that form of exercise.
Now, he runs 10 miles nearly every day and is using his love of running — and music — to help various causes.
“People ask all the time, how can I run 10 miles on a treadmill. It’s discipline,” said Burd, building facilities manager with Student Life Housing Facilities. “I’m to the point where I don’t have to do 10 miles but that’s the bar I set. There are days I’m fighting, you can stop, but typically I feel laser-focused on the meditation.”
He was definitely fighting during a recent effort to raise awareness for the Maize & Blue Cupboard, which aims to offer equitable access to healthy food for faculty, staff and students.
Located in the basement of Betsy Barbour, one of the residence halls he manages, the Maize & Blue Cupboard launched around the time the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Burd was struck by its mission and also heard about the virtual Big House 5k, with part of the proceeds benefitting the cupboard.
He decided to run four half-marathons on his treadmill in the week before the 5k to bring awareness to Maize & Blue Cupboard. He shared his plans on his Facebook and Instagram accounts of RunBurdRun.
“I just thought it was important to get that word out, and even if I only inspired one person, that one person can turn that word of mouth into who knows what,” he said.
Even for someone accustomed to running 10 miles regularly, adding 3.1 miles to four runs during the week was taxing. He ran two days in a row, took two days off then ran two days in a row, the last one coinciding with the Big House 5k on April 17.
“The first two went great, I was highly motivated, my body felt good because I had taken a couple days off prior,” he said. “I got to the third half-marathon, that’s when it started to sink in what I was doing. That fourth one came, and it was physically and mentally a journey.
“I could have tapped out at any time, but I wanted to raise that awareness, I wanted to set the bar high, and it worked out.”
His advocacy for the Maize & Blue Cupboard was not his first philanthropic effort. A bass player in three bands, Burd raises funds for Music for Autism each year on his birthday. He learned of the organization when the owner of a music shop where one of Burd’s bands practiced invited children with special needs to play instruments he supplied.
“I strive to learn musically as much as I can and share that experience with people who are wanting to learn and grow,” he said. “That’s why I resonated with Music for Autism.”
Burd serves as the building facilities manager with Student Life Housing Facilities, managing for the past two years the West Quad, Helen Newberry and Betsy Barbour residence halls.
Incidentally, when he was 10 years old in 2001, his mother brought him to West Quad for a “bring your child to work” event. She remains a U-M employee after also starting in Michigan Medicine, and his grandmother retired from U-M after a 25-year career.
“It’s gone full circle for me,” he said. “My mom brought me to ‘bring your kid to work’ day, and now 20 years later, I’m managing the building. It’s been a blessing, and it’s been awesome. That family tradition is always something that motivates me.”
Burd went to Adrian College to play baseball and study pre-med but soon realized management was where he could shine. While at Adrian, he spent the summer of 2012 as lead student painter of Bursley Hall — the first year that the summer program was open to anyone other than U-M students.
He graduated with his bachelor’s degree the following year and entered the nursing program at Washtenaw Community College. While there, he took a job at Michigan Medicine for just less than a year before accepting a position as a custodian in the Alice Lloyd and Couzens residence halls. His department offered an EWOOC program — employee working out of classification — for both maintenance and management.
He applied for the management program and was accepted, spending the next four summers supervising staff at various residence halls across campus and eventually becoming an interim building facilities manager.
“That first summer was an epiphany,” he said. “I realized this is the route I wanted to go. I could apply a lot of the nursing stuff I was learning to management, and I felt like it would allow me to show what kind of leader I was.”
After receiving his master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University, he was offered a full-time building facilities management position — and the timing could not have been better.
“It really was crazy timing,” Burd said. “I’ve been at West Quad for two years, and I really like it here. I’ve been able to establish a great team.”
That team would be tested during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — with West Quad the only building open to international students, a staff of 26 reduced to six after furloughs, and ever-changing procedures for cleaning as more reliable information about the virus came to light.
“Even though it was a challenge, it inspired me to go a step further with leading the team,” Burd said. “Leadership is really important to me, and I saw it as a great opportunity to set a great example.”
He and his six employees worked tirelessly to ensure the students staying there had a safe and clean environment. Burd also wanted to make certain none of his staff members contracted the virus at work, and he was successful.
“I think after we got through that initial hurdle, that group of six and I formed something really special from that experience,” Burd said. “I think we’re an unbreakable group now. I consider those people my warriors.”
Now that the pandemic is easing, Burd plans to try an ultra-marathon and release an album of soundscape, meditative music he wrote.
“My goal with running and life is to inspire, and I feel like running has provided me that platform to motivate and inspire,” he said. “Anything to just help, I feel like as a leader that’s how I’m able to get myself out there and make a difference in the world.”