Plans were released Wednesday for a public celebration of the life of Sarah Burke to be held next Tuesday, April 10. Beginning at 8 p.m., friends and family will gather in the Whistler Village Square to eulogize and celebrate late freestyle skiing legend. Burke's family has encouraged the public to attend.
The Whistler memorial celebration takes place a week prior to the annual World Ski and Snowboard Festival. This festival hosts the World Skiing Invitational (Now called the AFP World Championships), where Burke was a perennial star, winning the superpipe competition in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2008 and taking second there in 2006. In 2008, Burke also landed the first 1080 by a woman in competition during the WSI Superhit competition, a single-hit competition held at the end of WSI Superpipe event.
Burke took second at WSI Big Air in 2008. It was the first time the Big Air had an official women's field, but it was not the first time that she had participated. In keeping with her role as an advocate for women's sports, Burke skied in the Men's Big Air for several years prior as an exhibition competitor.
"She is the athlete that stuck her three runs under pressure -- the most of anybody I have ever seen," remembers JF Cusson. Now the coach of the Canadian Slopestyle Ski Team, Cusson was still actively competing at the beginning of Burke's career. He shortly moved on to judging and was on the panel for many major competitions that Burke won, including the Winter X Games and the WSI.
But what sticks out most in Cusson's mind about Burke had little to do with her dominance as an athlete. "Sarah had the best attitude a pro athlete could ever hope to have. She was perfect in so many ways," said Cusson. While competing "she was so determined to win every time and yet she just looked like she was having fun with her friends."
I was in France with Nico Zacek, and there was a random rainbow in a clear evening sky. Nico said, 'I didn't know she was going to be here.' I looked at him puzzled and then realized he meant Sarah, and I lost it -- cried shamelessly into his shoulder.” -- Colby West
Born in Ontario, Burke made Whistler a central part of her life throughout her ski career. She worked as a coach at Whistler summer camps for some 15 years and eventually made it her year-round home when she bought a house in nearby Squamish, B.C., where she lived with her husband and fellow professional skier, Rory Bushfield.
This is the first public ceremony memorializing Burke in Whistler. The outpouring of love from friends and fans across the globe is a testament to the late skier's impact on her sport and her world. A fund originally set up to help Burke's family with hospital bills has reached $311,507 dollars and counting. With its original goal being around $200,000, surplus funds are being used to establish a foundation in Burke's honor.
"Believe in Sarah" and "Remember Sarah" stickers were also pressed and sold with the goal of contributing $5,000 to the foundation. The makers of those stickers are currently looking at more than $15,000.
But nothing will fill the void left by Burke's untimely passing, which, for many of her contemporaries, was like losing a family member. "Sarah is the closest person to me that has left," says Colby James West. "Between photo shoots, competing and coaching at camps, I used to spend more time with her than with my own family."
For skiers close to Burke, the loss was so surreal that it took some time to set in. "I was in France [last week] with Nico Zacek, and there was a random rainbow in a clear evening sky," says West. "Nico said, 'I didn't know she was going to be here.' I looked at him puzzled and then realized he meant Sarah, and I lost it -- cried shamelessly into his shoulder."