Remembering Sarah Burke — Janice Phelan
Sarah was great as a little kid, right from the time she was a baby. She was a happy, happy little person. She always did quite well in school, never any problems and always quite outgoing with her friends. And she had lots of friends. I guess kids run amok every once in a while, the odd little scuffle here and there, but I think I had two perfect kids.
She was very sweet—a sweet-tempered person. Always very loving and cuddly. She would cuddle up to [her sister] Anna all the time or her Dad or me. She was very affectionate.
She was figure skating for quite a while. It was apparent that Sarah could jump, right off the bat. So that was her talent, in jumping. She did love it, but she loved skiing more.
She just loved the moguls. From the time she was 4, she skied more than she skated. From 4 or 5, she would be bee-bopping down the mogul fields, which I would carefully avoid. Her talent and drive was in skiing.
It was hard when she left home because she was 17 or so, really young when she first went to Mammoth. I found that really hard. But I think it’s totally wrong for parents to hold their kids back. She was doing so well and it was the place to go and develop, so I completely supported her. And I got to go to Mammoth to visit her, so that was fun.
Sarah and I were really close intuitively, so to speak. I don’t know a better word for it. I struggled for a long time watching her compete. I was afraid I was going to jinx her with my nervousness. I was always afraid Sarah would pick up on my nervousness. And then I realized it hurt her feelings because she thought I didn’t want to come watch her, so I had to get over myself.
Her determination was just amazing. I remember in Mammoth once, there was a little show that was on her, and I told the interviewer, “Never tell Sarah she can’t do something.” In fact, when she was little I would avoid at all costs telling her she couldn’t do something because as soon as you turned around, she would be at it and doing it until she perfected it. But it was that determination—some might call it stubbornness—that fueled her desire to achieve. It was that passion that kept her going and kept her emailing the powers that be at X Games. She wouldn’t believe that anyone could stop her from doing what she wanted to do.
I can remember so many times when she would be in the middle of a competition somewhere and the women were supposed to be having their own contingent, and the organizers would cancel it at the last minute. She’d call and be crying, but she wouldn’t publicly let anyone see how upset she was. She’d vent and let off some steam, and then tackle the organizers again. And then she’d call again and vent, and then go back and tackle them again. On and on and on it went. Eventually she knew she’d win out.
Sarah absolutely, definitely found her soul mate in Rory Bushfield. I was really happy when I finally met him. Rory just accepted me with open arms. He made her very happy. He’s just this kind, gentle, generous soul. That and he challenged her athletically. She would comment on that. Keeping up with him in sport helped make her better—Following him on the bike and trying to keep up because he’s such a strong athlete. They had so much in common. They were perfect for each other.
I think [her generosity] went along with her personality as an open, loving and giving person. That’s who she was. She gave back to the women in sports, she mentored kids through camps, and she mentored other women and men in competitions by encouraging them. It was just a part of who she was, a generous spirit.
I have to laugh at myself. I always thought she was mine from the time she was this lovely little baby to the time that she grew into an astonishing young woman with all those accomplishments. After she died, so many people came forth with love and thanks, and that showed me, aside from being an astonishing young woman, she was in a wonderful state of grace that people loved her for. And all of that love returned. All that love that Sarah gave out came back. Which is amazing.
She lived passionately doing exactly what she wanted to do. She was expressing herself doing what she loved. She followed her heart and followed her dreams. She was a strong enough person to do that and not accept any other answer or any other way of being. I consider that living in a state of grace.
— Janice Phelan: Mother
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Freeskier Magazine—This is skiing.