Why Sarah Burke’s Death is more tragic than we even realize

“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.

15 thoughts on “Why Sarah Burke’s Death is more tragic than we even realize

  1. Mark your words, especially in this post, hit to the core! You are an amazingly talented writer! Thank you for taking the time to share your talent, prose, reflections – you are making an impact!


  2. Awesome post. Thank you and very well said. I’m a former pipe competitor and skied with Sarah at x games, world cups and invitationals. I was there since 2003 when there were just a few of us ‘demonstrating’ the sport at the big events. Sarah was always incredibly encouraging for all girl participation.

  3. unbelievable report.thank you for that..you don’t seem to be one of the persons who waste their lives and talents..although I’m German, I really FELT your words. Go on writing like this.

    R.I.P. Sarah…it is sooo sad..:(

  4. Wonderful article! You put into words EXACTLY how I have been feeling. My heart truly aches for her family and I have been doing so much soul-searching since hearing the news. What do I do passionately? What do I do for fun? And what impact do I make? Sarah was one of the most AMAZING women of my generation and I am in awe of the life she lived.

  5. Wonderful article about an amazing, beautiful athlete. But the dates are messed up. She died on Jan 19th, not the 18th. And she married Rory Bushfield on Sept 25th, 2010, not in October 2010. I love reading your articles but when someone gets the simple things wrong it makes me think they didn’t put the effort into it that the story desserves!

  6. This article was truly fantastic. I was deeply touched when I read it. It’s so true, what you say, and I think it is so important that we all look into our lives and ask ourselves if we’re doing the right things, things that are important and meaningful to us and that we also start to embrace life if we’re not already do. After I read your article I had alot of thoughts on my mind and I felt that I from now on will look at life in another way – a better way. Life is really too short not to enjoy everyday and make the most and the best of the days we have to our disposal.

    Thank you.

  7. Sarah and Rory were a once i a lifetime couple. People with very special qualities. Thank you for your astue writing, it brought me back a few teary years.

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