Freestyle pioneer Sarah Burke remembered at memorial

Published: Wednesday, April 11 2012 7:38 a.m. MDT

A lit candle lights up a picture of freestyle skier Sarah Burke during a memorial service for her in Whistler, British Columbia Tuesday, April 10, 2012. Burke a freestyle skiing pioneer died Jan. 19, 2012 following an accident during a training session in Utah.

The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward, Associated Press

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Family, friends and admirers of Sarah Burke gathered in Whistler Village on Tuesday night to bid farewell to the late freeskiing pioneer.

Burke, who was born in Ontario and lived in Squamish, British Columbia, died in January after falling while training in the Superpipe at Park City, Utah. The 29-year-old Burke sustained irreversible brain damage when one of the arteries supplying her brain ruptured.

The public memorial was delayed until near the end of the ski season so freeskiers from around the world could attend. A private service was held earlier in the day at the Blackcomb Mountain halfpipe, a place Burke loved best.

"Today in the halfpipe it was unbelievable how much Sarah's memory has pulled us all together," said Trennan Paynter, coach of the Canadian freestyle halfpipe team. "Things will never be the same without her, but I can tell you that when we walk into the Sochi Olympic stadium, Sarah is going to be the one leading the team."

Celebrated as one of the most influential athletes in winter sport, Burke was the first woman to land a 720, then a 900, then a 1080-degree spin in competition. She was also instrumental in helping to get her sport into the Olympics for 2014 in Sochi.

A normally raucous Whistler crowd fell silent while watching images and videos of the multiple X Games gold medalist. Many shared memories of her accomplishments in sports and life.

Along with her success as an athlete, Burke was remembered for her humility and energy. Her husband, Rory Bushfield, referred to his late wife as his best friend and inspiration in life.

"She was so kind and fearless. It wasn't the gold medals that made her a champion, it was the little things she did for others," Bushfield said. "It's hard for me to put into words how much you mean to me, Sarah."

The overall champion trophy will now be named for Burke and presented for the first time at the World Skiing Invitational/Association of Freeskiing Professionals world championships at the end of April.

Burke will be remembered for her ability to inspire, as evidenced by her words that flickered across a video screen.

"It was never my goal to be recognized. I love the sport, I love doing it and I want as many girls as possible to do it too. That has always been my goal."

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