Sarah Burke: Freestyle skiier and pioneer for her sport

 

Although she had been in a coma for nine days after a fall in training, the death of 29-year-old daredevil Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke on Thursday sent shock waves not only through the global skiing community but among extreme sportsmen and women of every kind. Burke, a role model to women skiers and to the youngsters she trained, was considered one of the world's best female freestyle skiers and was favourite for superpipe gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

She, more than anyone else, was the driving force behind getting superpipe skiing – featuring jumps, twists, turns and multiple body revolutions on skateboard-style ramps carved out of snow – accepted as an Olympic sport for 2014. It was, she said, "the fulfilment of a lifelong dream" and she had made the Sochi Games the focus of her training until then.

Adding to the shock of her death was the fact that Burke was a gregarious, blue-eyed blonde beauty with a radiant smile which brought her into much demand as a model for sports clothing and other fashion. Photographed in lingerie for the men's magazine FHM, she was voted by its readers one of the 100 sexiest women in the world in 2006.

She was practising on 10 January for a more immediate event, the Winter X Games which start in Aspen, Colorado, next week, when she landed badly after performing what pipe skiers call a Flat Spin 540 – a 540-degree rotation of the body off the top of the vertical peak of a 22ft-high snow wall at Eagle Superpipe in Park City, Utah.

Although the fall did not look too bad at the time she ruptured a vertebral artery, went into cardiac arrest and lost oxygen to the brain. She was flown to hospital in Salt Lake City, where doctors put her into therapeutic hypothermia to cool the body and brain, but she never regained consciousness. According to a friend of the family yesterday, "according to Sarah's wishes, her organs and tissues were donated to save the lives of others."

She was the defending women's superpipe champion at the Winter X Games, winning gold for the fifth time last year. She was also the first woman to complete a 1,080-degree rotation (three full body twists) in competition.

Sarah Burke was born in Barrie, Ontario in 1982, but raised in a smaller Ontarian town, Midland, where she started skiing while still at school and got her first sponsor when she was racing down moguls at the age of 17. "I was often the only girl at the comps and competed against the boys for the first few years," she said. "Before I knew it I was travelling and competing all over the world. I've taken countless crashes and broken many bones but I love skiing ... and plan to do it as long as I'm enjoying it."

She became one of the first – men or women – to introduce skis into "the pipe," which had developed out of pipe skateboarding and become more famous for its snowboarders. Impressed by how pipe snowboarding had turned people like the American Shaun White from the fringes into the mainstream as extreme sports superstars, she began her campaign to get superpipe skiing into the Olympics. She pointed out that it would require no new infrastructure since the pipe would already be in place for the snowboarding events. The International Olympic Committee finally agreed last year.

Burke married her fellow Canadian freestyle skier Rory Bushfield, from Alberta, in September 2010.

"She was the first woman to try to compete in this sport and did so against the guys," according to her friend, the American freestyle skier Jen Hudak. "Sarah was certainly a pioneer and a large part of why our sport is now in the Olympic Games."

In 2009, Burke broke a vertebra after landing awkwardly while competing at the Winter X Games but she was back to the highest level, and to podiums, within a year. "I plan to stick around for the 2014 Olympics so don't be thinkin' I am going anywhere!" she wrote on her website recently. "I am really looking forward [to] skiing pow [powder] with my friends and pushing my boundaries. I would never have imagined that a girl from little ol' Midland, Ontario, would be where I am today. So always dream big ... you can make it happen."

Sarah Burke, freestyle skier: born Barrie, Ontario 3 September 1982; married 2010 Rory Bushfield; died Salt Lake City, Utah 19 January 2012.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam