On January 19th, 2012, the world of winter sports lost not only an icon, but a friend, winner, athlete, and daughter. Sarah Burke, born in Ontario, Canada, was the main driving force behind the appearance of women’s free ski halfpipe in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Burke was a pro freestyle skier and a four-time Winter X Games gold medalist, and from an early age had skied her way into previously boys/men-only tournaments and games. She tragically passed away in 2012 due to a head injury she sustained while skiing, and her life and works left behind a huge footprint in the snow of winter sports. I admire Sarah’s works, achievements, and life because of her perseverance for women in winter sport competitions.
Sarah Jean Burke was born September 3rd, 1982, in Barrie, Ontario, to mother Jan Phelan and Gordon Burke, who were both artists. Her family had always loved skiing and being outdoors, so they passed on that love to Sarah at an early age. She had a sister, Anna Phelan, who also shared their parents’ love for skiing. As she grew up, Sarah would go after school every day with her friends at their local resort, which led to her joining the freestyle club. This club began her traveling career, and she competed in many mogul and freestyle competitions. After only a few years, Sarah made it onto the Ontario, Canada, ski team. Her favorite part of the moguls was the two jumps, and she excelled at trick jumps from an early age. Sarah often snuck out at night to new terrain parks and competed in many nighttime competitions against all boys in the mogul events. She was often the only girl at these events. Sarah received her first sponsor when she was 17, and from there her skiing career only improved. Sarah’s hard work in her first 18 years of life is what truly made her a remarkable person.
Before she knew it, Sarah had become a leader in the winter sports community (and in the summer sports too!), and icon for young girls to look up to, and a tremendous athlete. She soon became one of ROXY’s professional riders, and had been sponsored by up to 14 sponsors at a time! Sarah had a strong competitive spirit, and she became the first woman to throw a 720, 900, and 1080 in competition. She had been the perfect combination of talent, skills, happiness, and peace and when once asked if she was ever in awe of her experiences, she replied, “All the time. Even when I am home in Whistler and we will have a great day skiing and stop for a second to just look around. It’s gorgeous and sunny and you know you will get to do what you love. I get that feeling every day, so it makes me life pretty good.” As Sarah got older, she became more and more famous. She became a four-time Winter X Games gold medalist, was named ESPN’s 2001 Female Skier of the Year, won the world championship for the halfpipe in 2005, in 2007 was voted the Best Female Action Sports Athlete at the ESPY awards, and in 2011 successfully swayed the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to have the women’s free ski halfpipe added to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
September 25th, 2010, was the day Sarah married fellow skier Rory Bushfield. She had first met him when she was 14 at a ski camp, and they had lived happily together for the rest of her years. During this time, Sarah also participated in several promotional events, including making an appearance in the movie “Propaganda” and was seeded the gold medal free ski halfpipe favorite. All this would drastically change for the worst one fateful, tragic day.
On January 10th, 2012, Sarah fell while training in Utah during a fairly routine warm-up and hit her head. Moments after getting up, she went into cardiac arrest while skiing and was rushed to the hospital, where she was reported to be in a coma. Nine days later, she died as a result of her injuries. As her publicist stated, her head injury resulted in “irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest.” On that day the world lost a powerful female figure, a special friend, and a beloved daughter. After her death, The Sarah Burke Foundation was formed to honor Sarah’s life and works, and on February 23rd Sarah’s ashes were spread over the mountains of Sochi, Russia, during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Sarah Burke was truly an inspiration to everyone, especially young aspiring girls. I do not personally ski, yet her hard work, determination, and perseverance on women’s behalf inspires me to be my own person and to be proud of whom I am. Her achievements and hard work through such a sadly short life are what truly made her such an amazing person. R.I.P.