Remembering Sarah Burke — Michael Spencer
I started working with Sarah in 2008, full time, as her agent. But she and I have had a relationship on a personal level for a very long time. We also had a professional relationship in some capacity before it was official as well. Once I was ready to take on more athletes and was looking for my first female athlete, Sarah had ended up signing with someone else. Rightfully so, she needed to.
But there was always a great relationship between us, and wherever I was, maybe talking to someone about one of my guys, she would come up in the conversation. I always found myself pitching her. I remember in one particular meeting with Simon [Dumont], they were talking to us about Simon, and we got the deal. Then they were asking us about girls, and Simon and I looked at each other and both said, “Sarah,” at the same time. At the time, there was really no one else people should have been looking at for girls. Right around then, Sarah called me and said, “Michael, I think it’s time that I work with you,” and I said, “Yes it is.”
The way Sarah conducted herself from the beginning of the sport was something that endeared Sarah to everyone in the industry—both those who knew her and those who didn’t. She was such an influencer and that was very important, but to me it was the way she did it. She did it not to prove a point. She wasn’t one of those people who had a chip on her shoulder. I think sometimes there are girls who will say, “Well, give us a chance. We are as good as the boys.” She was never saying that. Even though she could beat a lot of the guys at times. It was all about girls.
You can tell she pushed the sport from within. What I mean is she was trying to constantly better herself. That was the number one goal to her. It really stood out at the first X Games she won in pipe. She had it in the bag and could have won it with an easy run. And I remember her saying, “No, I’m going to do this. This is the trick I’m going to do.” I remember thinking, “Why is she doing that?” I had to reflect, and it was because that’s who she is. She was doing it because she wasn’t going to feel good about herself if she didn’t do her hardest tricks—what she came to do—regardless of if she could win without doing them. And she probably could have. It wasn’t about proving a point, except to herself.
Any athlete who has that ability, which is very rare, is special. Not every athlete can step into the ring and go, “I’m just doing this because this is about me,” and, “I’m going to push it because this is what I committed to do.” Too many people are concerned with results and the placing and that kind of stuff. She wasn’t. How she finished was a product of how she did. End of story.
She was setting standards. She was setting standards of what was possible. She was setting standards of what was possible for females in sports. She wasn’t setting limitations on what you need to do to win. She was saying, “Here’s what we can do as girls. Here’s how far we can go.” And each year it was something different. She could push it and she continued to push it up until the last day she was skiing. That kind of personality and confidence exudes into other people. They start to realize it’s not about the victory, but it’s about the sport as a whole. And I think this was realized when she would write letters to ESPN and X Games and things like that. They started to get that. They realized this was a girl pushing for something that was for the greater good. It wasn’t about her being on TV and winning more money.
What we’ll miss the most about her is her smile, her infectious way of making everyone feel better. That’s part of the sport, right? When she was around at a competition, regardless of what the competition was, when she walked into the room or showed up on her skis, there was something a little bit more fun and a little bit brighter. I think everyone who has been around her knows exactly what I’m talking about.
You reflect back on people through these things, and you read about how people talk about how good of a person she was or talk about her in the past tense. And the thing is, the way I talk about Sarah is the same way I talked about Sarah a year ago. It’s always been the same. She was a unique individual. I think seeing the outpouring and everything else—people are going to miss her because of the entire package. She really illustrated what we all should be striving to live up to within this industry and in life.
The last real sit-down meeting I had with her was in Breckenridge, and I walked away from that meeting and told a few people immediately after how fortunate I was to be working with her. She walked into that Starbucks and it was like, “Wow.” She made people turn their heads because there was something so unique about her. People who didn’t even know who she was, you could tell that they felt like, “That’s someone special.” And when we would sit down, we could talk about work but also share our personal lives and that was very special to me. We’d talk about my daughter a lot. I loved to share stories about my daughter with Sarah, and she was always genuinely interested.
We are working on setting up a Sarah Burke Foundation. It’s a foundation that will be set up to raise money and eventually be able to give back. It will ultimately go toward what Rory decides, but right now, it will provide funding for athletes at different levels—a scholarship-type foundation. And it will also raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, which was one of Sarah’s biggest passions. It was one thing she wanted to be doing when she wasn’t skiing, helping out at St. Jude as much as possible. She was a compassionate person who was always wanting to help and I hope we can uphold that spirit through this foundation.
— Michael Spencer: Agent
[Editor's note: Thanks to the hard work of many individuals, including Michael Spencer, the Sarah Burke Foundation is now up and running. Visit the Sarah Burke Foundation website for more information.]
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Freeskier Magazine—This is skiing.