Remembering Sarah Burke — John Smart
Sarah never stood out as a camper until she was on her skis. She really was that happy girl who fit in with everyone. She never changed—her attitude, what she was like—as a young girl or at the age of 28 last summer as a coach. She was still that innocent, very modest individual, no matter what she achieved. No matter how many X Games golds she won, it never changed her core personality. She never pretended she was anything but who she was. And that’s what made her phenomenal—as a coach, and inspiring and motivating. Everyone got along with Sarah Burke.
Sarah directed herself as an athlete. It came from within. She was pushing, and she ended up pulling others as she pushed the sport, just by doing what she wanted to do from within. She had that inner drive and confidence but you don’t always know where people are going to go with it. Some people burn out. She never burned out. I think it’s because she was such a positive person on top of that modesty.
Her energy was limitless. She was always the last one to leave the glacier. I never saw her tired. I never once saw her cry and rarely saw her upset, and if she was upset, it never lasted very long. It allowed her to reach different levels than most people.
After Sarah’s accident, whenever you hear the word “critical” and you’re not getting the story, you can’t think of anything but the worst-case scenario. That’s kind of the way I approach a lot of things: How bad is this? I was thinking brain damage and how horrible that would be. I never went as far as thinking that she might die. I guess one thing that helped me through it was the thought “that if anyone is going to surprise the doctors it’s her.” And she would do it with that energy I spoke about, which was so powerful. None of us were prepared for the news when it came out. It hit like a ton of bricks. I’ve experienced nothing like it. For her to die… it was a big shock for any of us to handle.
When she was injured and people were asking for interviews, I never wanted to talk because we always had hope, and I said I would talk once we heard the good news. So when the news came out on the worst side of any outcome we could imagine, I was hit with interview requests from all over that I had blocked previously. After talking to a few people who encouraged me to say something, I opened up for the first time and did an interview and started talking about her.
In that process, which I had great difficulty starting, I began to realize how good a story Sarah really was, and it started to almost reverse my hesitance and energize me in talking about her. I grasped how important it was to actually start telling her story and how that’s her legacy and that it’s our job to help share who she was with the world. I think everyone who knew her had these great stories about her. It was so easy to talk about Sarah. When everyone started talking, I think the energy that went all over was hugely powerful. It was just great to see. And every time I heard a story, I was captivated by someone else’s view and words as I was listening.
She can’t be gone. Sarah’s too good a person to be gone. As a person who has touched so many people—touched thousands of skiers through our camp as a coach—she’s left her mark on so many, and they’ve been forever changed because she’s one of those positive influences. No matter how much people realize it or think about it, if they met her, they saw a great person who was also so modest. And that message goes inside of everyone. That’s what was so cool about her wanting to give back and be a coach. She dropped that seed, and boy do we ever see it.
Her star is never going to go out. It can keep shining. And as we keep talking about her, the light gets brighter all the time. She was such a bright light. It’s unbelievable.
What we can now do with that light is what I’ve been searching for. One great way is with the Spirit of Sarah Scholarship that Momentum offers, which awards a free camp session each summer to a young female skier who embodies Sarah’s very special strengths and characteristics. This way, we hope Sarah’s spirit and who she was will never go away.
— John Smart: Founder, Momentum
About the author:
Freeskier Magazine—This is skiing.