I first met Sarah at Momentum camp in Whistler. She was a fairly talented young wannabe mogul skier who came with a group of girls from Ontario, and they were just out at camp like all the other kids. She was a little bit shy but a very sweet girl with a nice smile. I’m not even sure if it was the first year at camp—it may have been the second year—when I noticed she had this talent in the air, and she loved to fly and she loved to jump.
I think when she was 17, I kind of realized this newschool thing was starting to take off, and there were no girls who were stepping up into the role of being a leader. Sarah was the most talented girl I’d seen in the air and she had a knack for finding her feet. She also had the drive and the desire to try new things and push herself. Along with that, she was pushing the sport and at that point I thought, “That’s the girl who has the potential to be a star in this sport.” Sarah had this way about her that you see in so few people. She was so humble and so sweet that she disarmed everyone. And you see it now with all these tributes: No one has a bad thing to say about her. She was the best, but she never acted like the best and she always made time for everyone.
I think what’s notable is how little changed about Sarah over the years. She gained confidence, she became a professional and she learned how to take care of herself in a business sense. But underneath all that, she remained the same sweet person that she’d always been. It’s pretty rare to see a person who achieved the status that she did but still made time for everybody and was still so unassuming. It was one of the things that made her truly special.
Man, when she put something in her mind, she was going to achieve it. I remember having more than one talk with her saying, “Hey, you probably want to chill out a bit on this. You’re beating yourself up here.” She wouldn’t argue a lot, she would just say, “I’m fine,” walk away and do it again.
I think, sadly, the true impact Sarah made on skiing is just beginning to be felt now that she’s gone. I just heard that she’s going to be put into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, which is amazing, especially for someone who never went to the Olympics. Those spots are reserved for Canada’s greatest Olympians. I think that just goes to show not only her influence on skiing but also her influence on sport in general and how she was recognized as being such a key person in getting her sport to the Olympics. As far as skiing goes, her impact will probably be impossible to truly quantify, but I know for sure there are a lot of young girls out there who aspire to be Sarah Burke, and I think that’s a wonderful thing.
I was in Japan at the time of Sarah’s accident and got back from a day on the hill and saw all these messages on Twitter saying, “Stay strong, Sarah,” and all these similar things. I thought, “This isn’t good.” But in the back of my mind, I was like, “Man, it’s Sarah, though. She’s going to be okay.”
She’s the toughest girl I’ve ever met, one of the toughest people I’ve ever met, and I think for the first day or two I was thinking it would probably take her out of the X Games. That’s the thought pattern I had going. And then a couple days later the messages started getting a little more serious, and she was in a coma. I guess I always believed—at least in that first week or so—that she was going to pull through. That if anyone could, it was going to be her.
The community response was a good feeling for sure, especially the celebration of her life, in Whistler in early April. I guess it restored some of my faith in this community to a certain degree. I think freeskiing has become quite cliquey with all the aspects and ways of doing the sport. And I think that while that’s good, at the same time, there are so many egos and so many things involved that make me a little bit disappointed. Seeing everyone come together to celebrate Sarah sort of restored some of my faith. And definitely the 48 hours with the different celebrations we had were really positive emotional experiences for me. I definitely left that situation feeling that we have a good group of people involved here, and everything was going to be OK.
Sarah was such an incredible role model and such a wonderful person in so many ways. The last conversation we ever had was me telling her how much my daughter Kirra reminds me of her and how Kirra is just such a little go-getter and such a little athlete and is always pushing herself, falling down and getting right back up. I would be so proud if my daughter turned out like Sarah.