We are thinking of you Sarah Burke. Your impact will be felt for a long time. —U.S. soccer team's Abby Wambach
SALT LAKE CITY — Sarah Burke fought for their right to compete, to be paid equal prize money and to be included in the greatest championship of them all — the Olympic Winter Games.
And on the day the 29-year-old freeski pioneer died, the women of her sport honored her by leaving the superpipe empty.
The women competing in the Women's Ski Superpipe qualifier at the Winter Dew Tour in Killington Vermont Thursday opted not to compete out of respect for the woman who battled all her life for their right to do what they loved.. All of the women will compete in a super-final of sorts on Friday.
The vacant superpipe was a skier's moment of silence meant to show their gratitude, admiration and affection, their plan to compete in Friday's final is what would make Burke proud.
"Her accomplishments on skis continue to inspire girls everywhere to believe in themselves and follow their hearts," said a website set up Thursday to raise money to assist her husband and fellow freeskier Rory Bushfield pay the medical costs associated with her treatment since her accident on Jan. 10 at a superpipe at Park City Mountain Resort. "Her passing is not a cause to pack up our skis, but rather a reason to step-in and ski for Sarah and the dreams that inspired her star to shine."
Most of Burke's friends and colleagues were preparing to compete in either the Winter X Games, which begins Jan. 26, or the Winter Dew Tour, which comes to Snowbasin next month. Most chose to express condolences and affection for Burke and her family via social media.
From NBA players like Amare Stoudemire to Nascar drivers to television personalities, the outpouring was indicative of how vast her impact and influence was.
" I'm saddened by the passing of @sarah_j_burke," said tennis legend Billy Jean King. "She was a great friend to all of us and gave so much of her time to the @WomensSportsFdn and helping young people. She was a champion on and off the slopes and will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers are with her family. We will keep her spirit and memory alive!
U.S. soccer team's Abby Wambach, "We are thinking of you Sarah Burke. Your impact will be felt for a long time."
Sandy snowboarder and Olympian Louie Vito, "Guess God has better plans for @sarah_j_burke. Rest in Peace, Sarah. We love you! You will be missed but never forgotten."
Alpine skier and Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, "So saddened by the news about Sarah Burke. RIP. My thoughts and prayers go out to all family and friends and the skiing community."
NBC television anchor Robin Roberts, "So sad to hear that freestyle skier, Sarah Burke, has died of her injuries. In my prayers."
Salt Lake free skier Julian Carr talked about Burke and her contributions on an interview with Spence Checketts Thursday afternoon on 700 AM ESPN radio.
"I've had the pleasure of getting to know her the last few years," he said. "What came to my mind was a very vibrant and warm, beautiful girl. She was truly an amazing girl, loved by many."
He said he knew of Burke even before he knew very much about the sport and the industry.
"She defined it," he said. "She's an icon, one of the best talents. She was always the first girl to do anything. She is literally a pioneer of getting women recognized in a legitimate way. The girl had mad talent."
Carr said he "could go on for days" about what a wonderful human being and tremendous talent Burke was.
A Ski Channel documentary on Burke said that all women skiers owe the Ontario native a debt of gratitude.
"Sarah is a pioneer of her generation," said the fundraising website. "Her life and legacy embody the true spirit of action sports; a movement of individuals driven to innovate, master and explore the frontier of physical possibility. Sarah's love of skiing took her life to amazing places."
When Burke started she had to beg and plead with organizers in hopes they would allow her to compete against the men as there were no events for women.. She encouraged X Games officials for years to include an event for women, which eventually they did. She won the ski superpipe in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011. She was favored to defend her title next week, and was only competing in a few select competitions this season.
But Burke's greatest desire was for skiers to be able to compete in Olympic superpipe competitions. The IOC voted to include the sport in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and both she and her husband were thrilled with the idea of her being "an Olympic hopeful."
Canadian Freestyle CEO Peter Judge said in a news conference last week, "Sarah, in many ways defines the sport."
Others who worked with and competed against her said she was a tireless advocate of the sport and of giving women the same opportunities and access that their male counterparts enjoyed.
"This sport is male-dominated and I think that has made the women's freeski community a bit closer," said Salt Lake superpipe skier Jen Hudak a few days after Burke's accident. "Together we felt that we could prove to everyone that we were talented and fun to watch... That's what this sport is about- performing and loving what you do. Actions speak louder than words. Sarah embodied all of that and was our leader in doing so."
Burke and Bushfield met while skiing as teenagers, and they married in September of 2010.
She is survived by her parents, Jan and Gordon Burke and her sister Anna. Within a few hours of her death, the family's website had raised $34,000 to help cover nearly half a million dollars in medical expenses.
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