It was with a sense of terrible loss and incredulity that we learned of the death of freeskier Sarah Burke.
Of course, we had been following her injury in the newsroom, but it was also the source of many a conversation at home, in the aisles of our local stores, and on the chairlifts of our mountains.
The rest of the world reacted to the loss of a trailblazer, of a role model to be proud of, of a superstar athlete, the loss of a woman who put her love for her husband out there for everyone to see in a video that has gone viral — but here in Whistler we also reacted to the death of an athlete doing what she loved.
And perhaps that is where it hits home for many in Whistler: When we crank the buckles on our kid's boots, when we wave them off into the "ski school" lane at the gondi, when we ask them about their tricks at the end of their ski day it's in the back of our minds.
I'd be lying if I said I sent my son up without an extra hug in last couple weeks, and perhaps just a couple of extra "be safe" comments — OK more than just a couple of those.
But here is the thing, we love the mountains and so do our kids, and while you wouldn't catch me in the terrain park — except scooting between obstacles to keep track of my 11-year-old trickster — you can't keep the kids out.
And do we want to?
In the last several days we learned how Burke's dad Gordon would take her to competitions even if they knew she wouldn't be allowed to compete. Her parents supported her all the way to the top and no doubt would have been there at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games where she likely would have taken gold.
People like Burke inspire us — those who embrace their passions and push to make their dreams come true, never accepting a "no" or "can't be done" as part of the conversation. It is a message all of us should try to embrace at some level every day.
It's the very message we want our kids and our leaders to listen to. If you want something, if you want to accomplish something, go and do something about it — work to make it a reality — don't wait for someone else to do it. This is Burke's legacy and surely will be one of the things all the athletes in Sochi will be thinking about come Games time.
Her death at 29 forced all of us, including those at the top of the sport of freesking, to look again at questions of safety and logistics around the sport. Surely it is intuitive to understand that launching off the side of a pipe and twisting or flipping is risky, and yes, dangerous. But these are athletes who know the risk, who have competed with casts on, practiced hurt and worse. And in most sports it is the athletes and coaches who are driving safety improvements whether it is through technology, training or at the venues.
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