One year ago today, the world became a little dimmer after a star was taken far too soon. Sarah Burke, a freestyle skiing trailblazer and the face of her sport, passed away nine days after a crash during a training run in Lake Placid.
Burke’s legacy lives on in her peers as they prepare for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, where halfpipe skiing makes its Olympic Games debut in large part due to Burke’s tireless work for gender equality in her sport.
“It’s questionable where the sport would be without Sarah,” said Rory Bushfield, Burke’s widower. “It is where it is because of her. I watched her work so hard and set a goal. She wanted to be an Olympian and she built her side of the sport up until it became an Olympic sport. It was her goal and she got to achieve it.”
Growing up in Midland, ON, Burke started skiing at the age of five and a hobby quickly turned into a passion. Originally a moguls skier, Burke’s career transformed into one of legendary status piling up an impressive resume of wins.
A 2005 gold medal at the World Championships in Ruka, Finland in the halfpipe launched a career that saw her win six X Games medals in the superpipe including four first-place and two second-palce podium finishes. In 2007, ESPN awarded her the “Female Action Sports Athlete of the Year” to become the first skier to win an ESPY.
Always challenging herself, Burke was also the first female to land a 720, 900, 1080 and a alley-oop flatspin 540 in competition.
“In the beginning, the competition organizers didn’t know what to do with her,” said Burke’s mother, Jan Phelan. “A young woman who could hold her own with the men. They didn’t know it yet, but they had a tiger on their tail.”
Burke lobbied to have the halfpipe added to the Olympic program, citing no new infrastructure would be needed for the ladies to compete.
Living in Whistler, BC at the time of her passing, Burke’s dream of competing for Canada in the Olympic Games would have seemingly been perfect had the competition been approved for 2010. The International Olympic Committee would however grant the superpipe entry for 2014 in Sochi — an event that Burke was a favourite to win.
“In 2014, the sport that Sarah helped build is going to debut in the Winter Olympics,” said Trennon Paynter, the Canaidan Ski Halfpipe Team Head Coach. “Her influence on her sport, and on countless young girls around the world who wish to follow in her footsteps, is too great to measure.”
Sadly, Burke will never be able to see all her work come to fruition, but she will not be forgotten.
In September, the Canadian Olympic Committee recognized Burke’s tireless efforts by posthumously inducting her into the Candian Olympic Hall of Fame along with other Olympic legends like Beckie Scott and Daniel Igali.
“It was a huge honour for me and her family too see Sarah be inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame,” said Bushfield. “She deserves it. She’d be really modest about it, but it’s great.”
This year Bushfield helped start a charitable foundation named after his late wife. The Sarah Burke Foundation is now set up to support those who embody Burke’s spirit, drive and talent.
The initial fundraising efforts will come through the sale of necklaces, T-shirts and goggles, all branded with Burke’s name with proceeds going toward providing scholarships to athletes and donating to organizations Burke supported.
“She was an amazing athlete and an amazing human,” said Bushfield. “She could smile at someone and brighten their day with just a smile. She’s a very inspirational person to look up to and to live by the standards that she lived by.”
Sarah Burke. Wife, daughter, pioneer, fighter, champion.