“Sarah Burke in many ways defines the sport” – Peter Judge, CEO of Canada’s Freestyle Team
Sarah Burke – September 3, 1982 – January 19, 2012
On Wednesday, January 18th, after a tragic skiing accident in Utah, Sarah Burke passed away at age 29th. This was a personal story I had been following from the moment the news broke to the final announcement of her passing. Not because I am a personal fan or active participant in the freestyle skiing community, but the magnitude and importance of losing such a remarkable human being.
Sarah Burke was at the pinnacle of her life with limitless expectations to reach the stars. Winner of the X-Games 4 times, married on September 25, 2010 to fellow competitor Rory Bushfield, donning the cover of various magazines and the top advocate for half pipe and freestyle skiing in the Winter Olympics. After a number of years representing the excitement, the risk and the pure value of the sport, it was announced it would be included in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Not only would Sarah be proud to support her Canadian Team, but would walk in as the odds on favorite to walk away with gold.
As an outpouring of support and a momentous statement of the love for Sarah, in one day after the announcement of her passing and news of deep family debt from the medical expenses, the skiing community, family, friends and strangers donated over $200,000 to assist the family. That bring the smallest moment of warmth to my heart in the midst of saddening heartbreak.
As I reflected on this tragedy, I looked deeply at perspective and saw a number of comparisons to Jonathan Larson, who passed away the evening before the first Off-Broadway performance of Rent, a show that would come to define Broadway entertainment and send a message of love throughout the world.
Over 15 years later, his death remains in my head, more so with the countless times I have seen the production live.
When I take a moment to dissect the life of Sarah Burke this is what I see:
- Young, beautiful and incredibly talented
- A pioneer who defined the sport, took it to extremes and fought for its visibility and recognition
- A wife who embraced life with the simple pleasures of knitting, cooking and embracing the love of her
husband and family
- A leader in a sport that involves extreme risk
- A warmth that was a part of who she was both inside and out
- A champion. Four time X-Games winner and expected favorite going into the 2014 Olympics
- An athlete without limits. This was only the beginning for what would become a career remembered for
As I look around and see others lives, Sarah’s death may not have been in vain but it really makes you think harder about your own life and about the contributions you are making to enhance our experience on earth. Many of us drink, watch sports or reality television, go shopping, eat, read the paper, sit on Facebook or just watch life happen without any significant impact. I suppose for some, that is the dream of life but it should not be. If your greatest daily accomplishment is renting RedBox or seeing how coherent you were in your drunk texts, it is time to reevaluate.
Sarah Burke didn’t grasp the concept of slowing down for she knew what an uphill battle it was to gain recognition for her passion. Skiing was her passion along with her family, friends, husband and pursuit of extreme happiness. She was not looking to be in all the record books or define a sport or even become the most recognizable name but she was on her way. Her success, her motivation, her drive were all part of who she was.
Each day, was a journey. In 29 years, Sarah Burke accomplished more than most can ever imagine. For that, the magnitude of this tragedy is so escalated.
I did not know Sarah Burke, but the impact of her death should have all of us take a definitive look at life and whether was are truly embracing our own inner happiness.