Remembering Sarah Burke — Grete Eliassen
I first learned about Sarah from “The Game,” the Poor Boyz movie. Her and Kristi Leskinen both had parts, and I was like, “Who are these girls?” I wanted to learn about what they did and how I could be involved.
My first time to ski camp in Whistler, I remember orientation and sitting in the conference room. Sarah was one of the coaches, and she walked through the door and I thought, “Holy cow, that’s her. She’s famous.” I was starstruck. Then my very next thought was, “I want her to be my friend.” She had a way about her that was so easy to be around. For as much exposure as she had, you would never know it if you met her on the street.
I skied all week with other coaches at Momentum that first summer, then finally got to be in Sarah’s group. We bonded over music and dancing, and we were on our way to becoming friends. She kept in touch with me through Newschoolers after that summer. I think she thought I had the potential to be a really good skier, and she kept asking me to come to contests and why didn’t I make it to WSI that year. As a competitor, you would think she wouldn’t want me there, but she was just interested in getting more girls into the sport. There was nothing competitive about it. She told me I had better come to WSI next year and I did. Sarah was hurt with a broken thumb, I think, so we didn’t get to compete against each other. But she was there in support.
Throughout the years, she was kind of the older sister I never had. We were on the circuit together, we would get to be roommates and our friendship grew so we were always excited to see each other. She introduced me to things she thought I would be interested in like the Women’s Sports Foundation. She was always pushing people to get involved and be a part of things. And Sarah herself never missed a moment. She would never be the one to go to bed or go to sleep first. If there was something fun happening, Sarah was there. From partying at Da Hoodest House or playing pranks on people at contests, Sarah was always around. You thought of her as this famous person, but she was just one of the girls.
Being one of the girls is how she pushed for the sport. She didn’t want to do it as one of the guys. She wanted equal opportunity, and one of the things Sarah was able to do through her participation in the sport was see the future. She knew that if she kept at it, doing what she was doing, competing in contests even when there were no female competitors, someday there would be. Someday there would be an Olympic venue for the sport she loved. She had a vision and sometimes only she could see it. But it was always right on.
Sarah loved what she did. She loved skiing. She loved the joy of winning the X Games, and she wanted to keep doing it so that other girls could feel the same joy. She could see so many other girls wanting to ski and compete if she could help them know about it. Sarah pushed me as an athlete to do better. I felt like she was judging me at every contest. If I didn’t push myself, I was letting her down. I wanted to make her proud, even though we were competing against each other. And when we were competing, we knew it. There was a different fire in her eyes. But she always had a belief in me that helped push me.
And Sarah was always interested in what was going on in my life. Whether it be boys or how you were living your life, Sarah was always there wanting the best for you and helping you find what it was that would be the best for you. She was very supportive. She would bake with you, dance with you and be there for you when you had a question about what to do. Even when she was alive, I would ask myself, What would Sarah do? But I could call her and ask her. Now I have to think to myself and think what she would say. She would say, “Try it like this…” And I know that when I think of her this way, I won’t let barriers stop me. I’m never going to pass up an opportunity if it’s presented because Sarah wouldn’t. Sarah was always pushing you to try the next thing, take the chance and do it. She taught me my first 540 with the simple, “Just add another 180 at the end.” She filmed me with my pink belt on and sure enough, that’s all I had to do.
Everything will be different now. Contests will be different now. There will always be something wrong. And her place will never be filled by another person or by any amount of time. But we’ll get through it. The best way we can remember Sarah is by knowing that she is still always with us and always around us. She will be in our hearts forever.
— Grete Eliassen: Professional Skier
About the author:
Freeskier Magazine—This is skiing.