Remembering Sarah Burke — Short remembrances by athletes and friends

January 1st, 2013 by

Sarah had a way to make you feel as if you had been long-time friends, who were just picking up where they left off. I will always remember the way Sarah could warm a room with just her presence, and the way every person felt close to her, no matter if they were or not. — Jessica Mendoza, professional softball player, two-time Olympic medalist


Sarah was the most beautiful and kind person I’ve had the chance to meet. Her smile could light up a mountain. We got to teach young freestylers how to prepare for an event, and we had some really funny laughs when her 12-year-old camper fell and started crying. She said, “That’s not going to get you very far in skiing.” She was tough, gorgeous and definitely not a crybaby. We miss you Sarah, and we will try not to cry when we fall down. — Danny Kass, professional snowboarder, Olympic medalist


It wasn’t just the smile that drew you to Sarah; it was everything she held behind it. The need to make those around her smile, to chase their dreams without taking no for an answer. The love and appreciation she had for the friends she had, and continuously making time for new ones. I feel so very lucky for all of the laughs, love, lectures and adventures with her over the years. Any regular day with Sarah was an opportunity for moments to be made. All of which we treasure so dearly now, as they continue to inspire us to take joy in the little things and make the ordinary extraordinary. — Jessica Nicks, friend


I will always remember fondly Sarah’s vibrant personality and fun-loving attitude—she always lit up the room. The world has lost a great person, role model and pioneer for women’s sports. — Michelle Kwan, two-time Olympic medalist figure skater


Sarah, there is not a day that passes that you are not on my mind. It’s hard to believe you are gone from this Earth, however, I know you will eternally be here with me and with all of us. You lived life to the fullest, never took no for an answer and did all of this with a big, beautiful smile on your face. You have inspired and taught me so much: to be patient and kind, to smile often, to try new things, to live for today and, above all, to make every moment count. You will be forever in my heart. I love you and miss you so much. — Jessica Vander Kooij, friend


Sarah was such an amazing and understanding person. I had the pleasure of working with her on a number of photoshoots for Smith over the years. No matter how crazy our ideas were, she was open to try anything. We invaded her condo in Whistler, shot her all over Aspen, threw her in a studio for days on end, and she always had a smile on her face. I’ll never forget that smile. — Jeff Bartel, co-founder of Nemo


Two years ago, Gretchen Bleiler and I were at Park City trying to learn some new tricks before X Games. One of our last days, we went up and the weather was terrible. Just as Gretchen and I were about to call it and head home, we saw Sarah. The weather didn’t stop her; she was doing 900s with legit style. That was just one of the times that Sarah inspired me, and now I still think of her whenever the weather is crappy and I need to get it done. — Ellery Hollingsworth, professional snowboarder


Every once in a while a star crosses our path and brightens our journey. For us, Sarah Burke was one of those stars. She made her mark on and off the slopes and in and out of sports, and she left so many with a smile on their face and spark in their heart. Her tireless work to get her sport included in the Olympics will forever be a big part of her legacy. She really made a difference in this world, and we were all so blessed to have had such a trailblazer in our lives. — Billie Jean King, professional tennis player and founder of Women’s Sports Foundation & Ilana Kloss


Sarah was one of those people who was always friendly, no matter what. I think I speak for everyone when I say that she had one of those smiles that brightened the room and made your day that much better. — Louie Vito, professional snowboarder, Olympian


Sarah Burke makes me proud to be a skier and a human. I feel immeasurably lucky to have been able to spend time with her, and she is and will always be an incredible inspiration in sports and life. She was the type of person it could be easy for others to be jealous of—gorgeous, talented, fashionable, funny, intelligent and had boundless energy—but with Sarah, jealousy wasn’t possible because she was truly kind and good-hearted. Sarah always made everyone feel included, sharing in her light and that something special that only she possessed. Some things in the world are just not fair or right, and losing Sarah is one of those. But we can be thankful that we had her, she was here and she changed the world for the better. — Ingrid Backstrom, professional skier


I met Sarah at an X Games qualifier up on the glacier at Whistler years ago. We were both about 16 at the time and Sarah won doing a 1080 while I won the men’s contest just doing a variation on a 720. To me, that epitomized Sarah’s ability on skis. I had the pleasure of going on a couple unforgettable trips with Sarah. Not your average trips for a female—heli and sled access trips—when it’s easy for anyone to bite off more than they can chew. Sarah never once flinched. Even when she crashed and tomahawked down an entire face, she would get back up and rebate it. She was a great person to travel with, and I can’t even begin to imagine how many people’s lives she touched. Sarah is missed. — Eric Pollard, professional skier


Back in 2000, the Level 1 rookie crew rallied up to Mont Ste-Marie, QC, for one of our first private park shoots where we were joined by some of the local freestyle kids in sessioning a jump. One particularly enthused newcomer continued to crash 1080s, charging harder than anyone in our crew. On one of the rougher tumbles, her helmet popped off and a head full of now-visible long blonde hair made it clear that this was not just another one of the guys. This was our introduction to the cherub-faced 16-year-old Sarah Burke, who picked herself back up and proceeded to stomp that 10 on her next attempt. In the years to follow, she moved on to become the singular dominant force in women’s skiing, using her talents, her drive and her smile to inspire her contemporaries, both men and women; push the sport as few others have; and open doors for the next generation to follow in her footsteps. — Josh Berman, founder of Level 1 Productions


Sarah was one of the most fun and infectious people I’ve ever known. And as a result, when she was around you were always having fun. She taught me quite a few things: to smile more, to make the most of every situation, to enjoy the people around me and to work my ass off for things I believe in. I’ll cherish the memories and try and live up to such an awesome person and make her proud, whether on the slopes, on an adventure or on the dance floor. Miss you Burke. You’ll always be in my thoughts and heart. — Riley Leboe, professional skier


Sarah lit up any room she was in. She was the angel of the ski industry, and we all miss her presence. — Jossi Wells, professional skier


Oftentimes professional skiers talk about what they can do. Sarah didn’t. That’s what made her shine. She never talked about the tricks she was doing. She just went out there and did it and was always a step above. Sarah became the best all-around female skier on the planet over the past few years. She revolutionized women’s skiing and still stands on top of the pedestal. — Chris O’Connell, photographer and co-founder of Armada


One of the many great qualities about Sarah is that she worked so hard. She just would not give up. She always had a smile and loved what she did. For her it was not about the money or fame, she wanted to land the trick for herself, to feel the accomplishment that came with doing it. — Steve Winter, co-founder of Matchstick Productions


Sarah inspired so many women to make a difference in sports and in the world. She did everything in life with a good attitude and that amazing smile. She showed the world that a girl can be both a badass athlete and a lady. The way that she skied and innovated for her sport inspired me to want to do the same. She was a huge factor in one of the biggest nights of my life and biggest moments of my career. She gave me the encouraging words and inspiration to make history in my sport just like she did so many times for hers. I will always love her, always be inspired by her, always remember her radiant, infectious smile and always tell her story to empower women of all ages through my lifetime. — Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, professional skateboarder


Sarah was the reason I followed my dreams. She made me realize that my dreams could become a reality. She was the best role model that I could have had. Her humble character was a precious gift to the ski community and the world. — Michelle Parker, professional skier


Sarah was the queen of our time in skiing. She will always be the example for all to follow, as a classy and humble champion, an innovator of our sport, a wonderful person on and off the hill, as a beautiful person inside and out, and absolutely one of my favorite skiers of all time. My family loves Sarah, and I will cherish the memories of filming together, laughing together, and watching her become the best freestyle skier of all time and one hell of a champion! Thanks for all you’ve done for skiing. — Johnny Decesare, founder of Poor Boyz Productions


Sarah was one of those people I would always try to be more like. She was such an amazing combination of talent, drive and humility. Her talent is one thing very few people have, but that, mixed with being an amazing human being off the snow, made her something extremely special. — Dana Flahr, professional skier


It’s still hard to understand that Sarah is no longer with us. Her spirit was so big and her accomplishments so inspiring that she will never really be gone. As a person, she was gracious, giving, funny and kind-hearted. As an athlete, she had the raw talent and natural grace to motivate everyone to be better, from spectators to up-and-comers to seasoned pros; everyone wanted to be like Sarah. And as a Roxy team rider, Sarah, by just being herself, helped to define the company and bring more meaning to what the brand is all about. Thank you for making the world a better place, Sarah! — Amber Stackhouse, team manager, Roxy


I always felt a certain bond with Sarah throughout my career. I always admired and looked up to her and how she carried herself throughout her career. Not only was she incredibly naturally talented and oozed style in everything that she did, but what always impressed me and stood out more than anything was that she was one of the hardest workers out there, but in a smart way. In watching Sarah, I saw a woman who knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to go after it. Sarah was a stud, leading the charge in her sport for 10 years. If I’ve learned anything from her passing, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. And that is why I think Sarah would tell all of us to keep going, keep waking up early to land those tricks we’ve been dreaming of, but only if it’s done with 100-percent passion, pure fire, discipline and commitment. — Gretchen Bleiler, professional snowboarder, Olympic medalist


Sarah was one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. I saw her hike the pipe for hours when she was learning new tricks and crash repeatedly, but she wouldn’t give up until she stomped the trick, no matter how long it took. Watching her push herself every day on the hill really influenced us—it made us better. — Justin Dorey, professional skier


I will always miss Sarah—forever—personally and professionally, as my teammate, neighbor, inspiration and friend. Sarah believed in the strength of women, especially female freeskiers. She did so much to have us included at the highest levels and to encourage more females to step up. This past year I was even more proud to be part of the female freeskiing community. Sarah’s legacy could be seen in the progression of so many “personal bests” and attempts to push the boundaries throughout the year, even though our hearts were very heavy with grief. We all will continue to honor her by pushing ourselves, progressing and encouraging others to do the same. Each in our own way, we paid tribute to the fact that while Sarah always wanted to win, she was never stingy with praise and encouragement. I think that if one day female freeskiers receive a closer-to-equal level of inclusion, respect and attention, it will be one of the ultimate tributes to Sarah. She started it by speaking out for all of us, and she believed it would happen one day. — Rosalind Groenewoud, professional skier


Sarah had an unbelievable ability to motivate people and elevate their spirits. She wasn’t afraid to let you know if she thought you were blowing it. She always helped me make proper decisions and make the most of things. If you’re having a shitty day, think of her, and it will cheer you up. — Fergie Cancade, athlete marketing manager, Red Bull Canada


For me, it’s as simple as this: Sarah had the amazing capability to light up the world around her. Because of her I believe that anything is possible and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for her. For that, I am eternally grateful. — Kaya Turski, professional skier


Sarah was a person who touched many a life without wanting anything in return. The one thing I remember most about her—besides the ability to take really hard slams, get back up and shake it off—was her impetuous smile. Her smile would sometimes appear out of nowhere and like fire, catch anyone in its path. It made you want to smile back. You could see its sincerity, a smile without reservations, care or thought. It’s a smile that will forever be etched in my and so many others’ memories. Thank you Sarah. — Pep Fujas, professional skier


Sarah had this very genuine vibe to her that made everyone feel comfortable and happy around her. I feel like she was an angel sent to Earth to inspire us to be better people. It is so sad that she isn’t with us anymore in person, but she planted so much greatness while she was here that we will feed from her glowing energy forever. Thank you Sarah. You sure made it count and are forever loved. Rest in peace. — Marie-France Roy, professional snowboarder


Sarah always knew when it was time to get down to business but also when it was time to relax and enjoy the sport. With Sarah, it was hard to tell when she was relaxing or gearing up because her smile was the same. She had pure enjoyment and love for the sport and everyone around her. That will never be forgotten. From the first day I met her in 2000, she had a certain aura about her that words cannot describe. It was something you felt in her presence that put a smile on anyone’s face. — Peter Olenick, professional skier


Sarah had a big smile and a kind hug for me every time I saw her. She was a continuous source of inspiration to me, whether it was hearing about her adventures with Rory or reading about her continuous battles to make people and events give female skiers the respect they deserved. Sarah challenged me, even if it wasn’t directly. The way she lived her life so fully continues to inspire me to this day; to live more, love more, laugh more and dance much, much harder. She was one of the most incredible people I’ve ever known, and I am so grateful to have had her in my life. — Spencer O’Brien, professional snowboarder


I don’t really know what words to say that would do Sarah justice. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I owe her my whole life. She was my biggest competition, she motivated me, she encouraged me and she taught me. The greatest lessons I have learned in life, I learned from observing Sarah. Pour yourself into what you love to do, work hard, play hard, believe in yourself and believe in your dreams. All I can do now is ski for Sarah and hope to make her proud. — Jen Hudak, professional skier

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Freeskier Magazine—This is skiing.