Sarah Burke dies from injuries

Canada's Sarah Burke celebrates after winning the ladies' halfpipe freestyle FIS World Cup Grand...

Canada's Sarah Burke celebrates after winning the ladies' halfpipe freestyle FIS World Cup Grand Finals 2008 in Chiesa Valmalenco in this March 12, 2008 file photo. (REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo)

DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:02 PM ET

TORONTO - Sarah Burke's "why not" attitude is a big reason why her sport was accepted into the Olympics.

But Burke, a trailblazer in freestyle halfpipe skiing and in many ways the face of the extreme sport in Canada, will never get to see the fruits of her labour when the world gathers for the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

Burke died Thursday at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City just over a week after being critically injured in a Jan. 10 crash during a training run at a personal sponsor event in Park City, Utah. The 29-year-old had surgery on Jan. 11 to repair a ruptured vertebral artery and was put into an induced coma after being airlifted to Salt Lake City but never regained consciousness.

"Sarah passed away peacefully surrounded by those she loved," Burke's publicist, Nicole Wool, said in a statement. "While early reports in the media stated that Sarah's injury was a traumatic brain injury, it is important to note that Sarah's condition was the result of a lack of oxygen to the brain during cardiac arrest (immediately after the crash)."

Burke, a four-time Winter X Games gold medalist and pioneer in freestyle skiing, was considered one of the favourites to win in Sochi, Russia, where the event would make its Olympic debut. She played a pivotal part in campaigning for the inclusion of freestyle skiing in the Olympics, according to Canadian Freestyle Ski Association CEO Peter Judge.

"As a face and a spokesperson for the sport, she was always very articulate, she was always very intelligent in terms of what she presented the sport to be," Judge said. "As a spokesperson for her sport, she played a huge role in its acceptance. Sarah was a person who, in many ways, was larger than life and lived life to the fullest. She was a phenomenal representative of her sport."

Burke might have been the best female halfpipe skier in the world, an icon among those who follow a sport that is well out of the mainstream. She never failed to step on the podium at a World Cup meet during her career.

"Sarah is probably the face behind women's halfpipe and even halfpipe in general," world champion freestyle aerialist Warren Shouldice said in Calgary. "Not only in Canada, but in the entire world. She probably lobbied harder than anyone to get it into the Sochi Games. To see her not being able to realize that dream of being an Olympian and competing in the sport she loves is a terrible tragedy.

"She was a fantastic personality. She had and amazing smile that lit up a room. She was fun to be around, positive, outgoing. A great, fantastic ambassador for freestyle and halfpipe. She is irreplaceable, that's for sure."

Burke, who was married to extreme skier Rory Bushfield, died doing something she loved. In a Ski Channel documentary featuring Burke and Bushfield, she says, somewhat prophetically in hindsight, "(the ski hill) is where we met, where we play, we live" before Bushfield interjects and adds, "and hopefully where we die."

The trick Burke was trying to land when she crashed was a relatively simple one -- a flatspin-540. It's a trick Judge said was not new to her and fell well within her skill level, which "underscores how much of a freak accident it was."

"It's pretty clear this injury was one that was more of a freak accident than it was caused by anything specific," Judge added. "Those around are having a tough time reconciling the nature of the injury with what eventually transpired. It seems to be more of a fluke outcome than anything else.

"Sarah was involved significantly in terms of creating safe mechanisms. Safety was paramount to her and also in the thought process she had."

And while there will undoubtedly be a hue-and-cry over the safety of freestyle skiing, very little could have been done to prevent her injury, a fact that has left the skiing community reeling.

"It's still a safe sport," Shouldice said. "It was just a terrible, freak accident."


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