Freeskiing lost a pioneer yesterday, Sarah Burke. The four-time X Games gold medalist had been in critical condition since her crash on January 10. Although the action sports community is extremely saddened by the news, we remember her great achievements.
Sarah helped bring attention to female skiers during a time when she had to compete with the men or was turned away from competition. She was also the first woman to land a 720, 900, and 1080 in competition. She also lobbied for women’s slopestyle in the X Games and ski superpipe in the 2014 Winter Olympics. In both cases, her wish came true.
Outside of competition, Sarah devoted her time to philanthropic work, held clinics for up-and-coming skiers, and was featured in several magazines. She even designed a level in the video game LittleBigPlanet. Before her accident, she had asked that her organs and tissues be donated.
Her crash took place on the same pipe that almost took snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s life. This eerie coincidence, along with the string of accidents in many forms of actions sports last year, raises a question about safety. However, Park City Eagle Superpipe is not blame, and we can’t fault the athletes for wanting to push their sport further. To quote Joe O’Conner of National Post, “This is not a safety issue. This is a life issue.”
Nevertheless, I wonder if more can be done for skiing and snowboarding, just as freestyle motocross riders started to wear neck braces in response to the serious accidents that have happened. Last night on Conan, Shaun White talked about how the pipes are now lined with airbags so that athletes can safely practice their tricks. However, there comes a point when he has to decide whether he wants to do it on pipe itself, and that is what it boils down to. Athletes like Sarah, her husband Rory Bushfield, Kevin, and Shaun will continue to take risks that they deem worthy of taking. At the end of the day, it’s not about gold medals or progression; it’s about doing what they love.
Rest in peace, Sarah.