Freeskiing has lost one of its top athletes and great personalities in Canadian superpipe specialist Sarah Burke, who died Thursday of head injuries sustained Jan. 10 during a fall in the Eagle Superpipe at Park Mountain Resort in Utah.
Burke, 29, a four-time X Games champion and a favorite to win the gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, Russia, passed away at 9:22 a.m. She was accompanied by family and new husband, Rory Bushfield.
A statement released by the family explained that Burke had suffered a ruptured vertebral artery, one of the four major arteries supplying blood to the brain. The rupture led to a severe hemorrhage, which caused her to experience cardiac arrest soon after her fall.
Burke was placed on life support while doctors repaired the artery. But she had sustained severe irreversible brain damage because of a lack of oxygen and blood flow after cardiac arrest.
In accordance with her wishes, her organs and tissues were donated to help save the lives of others.
The accident has raised the issue of safety in terms of superpipe riding at the highest level. Burke's fall occurred at the same resort at which snowboarder Kevin Pearce was critically injured while training on Dec. 31, 2009.
Pearce, who had been training for his Olympics debut, suffered traumatic brain injuries and endured a long and comprehensive rehabilitation period. Last month he rode a snowboard for the first time since his accident, but his career is over.
The sport has progressed to dangerous new heights, with more spinning and more amplitude above the superpipes' 22-foot walls. This makes it easier to become disoriented before trying to land on the walls of the U-shaped superpipes.
Snowboarding star Gretchen Blieler told ESPN while Burke was still alive that athletes are aware of the dangers.
"There are no guarantees," she said. "And that is the risk we all take with us every day in life. But that is why we must live and live well, because nothing is guaranteed. I think Sarah would tell all of us to keep going, keep waking up early to land those tricks you've been dreaming of, but only if it's done with 100 percent passion, pure fire, discipline and commitment."
Peter Judge, the group's CEO, told the Salt Lake City Deseret News, "In many ways, Sarah defines the sport. She was one of the first people to get into the pipe and bring skis to the pipe.
"She's always been very dedicated in trying to define her sport, and it's never been about just winning. It's been about pushing the limits. She's always been more concerned about making herself the best, rather than comparing herself to other people."
Burke was supposed to have competed this week at a Dew Tour event in Killington, Vt.
And to be sure, her death will leave a gaping void at the X Games next week in Aspen, Colo., and for a long time beyond in the tight-knit freeskiing community.
Stated rising freeskiing star Torin Yater-Wallace, via his Facebook wall: "Cannot even express my feelings at the moment. The sport we do is most definitely a crazy sport with unpredictable high consequences.
"My condolences go out to Sarah Burke and her family today. You were such an inspiration to this sport and always will be."
Note: Those wishing to contribute to help cover Sarah's outstanding medical costs and related expenses can visit a Give Forward page set up on her behalf. Those wishing to see more of what people are saying about Sarah can visit her Facebook page