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He ran D.C. half marathon dressed as Sean Taylor — helmet, pads and all

Rusty Burrell ran Saturday’s Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in D.C. dressed as Sean Taylor. (Courtesy of Rusty Burrell)
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Toward the end of Saturday’s Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in Washington, a fellow runner taking a selfie video passed Rusty Burrell and shouted something to the effect of “Go Cowboys!” The real Sean Taylor might have chased the heckler down, but Burrell, who was merely dressed as the late, great Washington safety — shoulder pads and helmet included — was low on energy after waking up feeling less than 100 percent.

Burrell didn’t catch the Cowboys fan, but he dug deep in the final stretch to beat his time from the Richmond half marathon in November, which, in what has become a tradition for the 37-year-old, he ran in a full University of Richmond football uniform.

“My attitude toward running these days is more fun, trying to stay in shape and beating back the beer and pizza kind of thing,” Burrell, a former hurdler, high jumper and middle distance runner at Richmond, said in a phone interview.

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Burrell’s wife, Teal, a fellow Richmond graduate, is the serious runner in the family. She competed at the 2016 and 2020 Olympic marathon trials and got Rusty into running 5Ks and 10Ks after they married in 2013. But his tradition of wearing costumes in races wouldn’t begin for another few years. At the 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia in 2019, Burrell wanted to wear something that would make him easy for his toddler daughter to spot among the crowd. Rather than opting for a bright-colored shirt or a hat with flashing lights, he settled on his “Star Wars” Stormtrooper costume from the previous Halloween.

“I wasn’t really anticipating how much feedback I’d get from the crowd and how much of a fun experience it would be,” Burrell said. “People are giving me high-fives; the announcers are calling me out. I decided I might as well do this in some other costumes to try to spice things up.”

Burrell planned to celebrate the Washington Nationals’ 2019 World Series title by running his next race in a Nationals uniform, but the coronavirus pandemic put the D.C. sports fan’s idea on hold. Finally, at the Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond last April, Burrell sported a red Juan Soto Nationals jersey, white baseball pants, red socks and a Nationals cap. He wore a baseball glove and gripped a baseball for the entire race. Spectators and fellow runners loved it.

A week later, Burrell completed the Broad Street Run dressed as Allen Iverson, including a full Philadelphia 76ers jersey and arm sleeve. He dribbled a basketball for the duration of the race but stopped short of ditching his running shoes for a pair of Iversons.

“That was probably the best one I did,” Burrell said. “I had my pandemic hair, so I did the cornrows. I’m from Virginia and Allen Iverson is one of my childhood basketball idols, so it just kind of all came together. They ate it up up there.”

Ahead of the Richmond half marathon in November, Burrell decided he wanted to run in a Richmond Spiders football uniform. He reached out to his former college track and field coach at Richmond, who put him in touch with members of the school’s football equipment staff. They were happy to lend Burrell a uniform and helmet for the race.

“It was a rough day because it was kind of hot, but it was still fun, and it led into what I was trying to do in D.C.,” said Burrell, who spiked a football at the finish line.

Burrell didn’t contact the Commanders to see if the team would be willing to lend him some gear for his latest race honoring Taylor, who was 24 when he was killed during a robbery attempt at his Florida home in 2007.

“I just figured they had enough stuff going on up there,” he said, “so I figured I could put [the costume] together myself.”

It was a process. Burrell refurbished and repainted a used helmet, applying stripes and logo decals he bought online. He acquired a pair of cheap shoulder pads and a knockoff No. 21 jersey, and he taped gold and white stripes on a pair of burgundy football pants. Burrell considered taping his face mask the way Taylor often did but decided against it.

Despite feeling a bit under the weather and developing a headache from running in a football helmet for 13.1 miles, Burrell said Saturday’s race was a success. There were a few hecklers, including the Cowboys fan who passed him, but he also heard a lot of cheers and shouts of “Go ’Skins” and “Go Commanders,” and he even caught a football from a spectator. Burrell’s wife and kids rooted him on from various points along the course, and they had no trouble spotting him.

“The tape on my pants kind of came apart, but the helmet was the biggest struggle,” said Burrell, who finished in 2 hours 18 minutes.

Burrell is registered for the Richmond 10K and the Broad Street Run this spring. He hasn’t decided on costumes for either race.