The outpouring of condolences, tributes and stories that followed the tragic injury and, nine days later, death of Sarah Burke is commensurate with the many lives she touched in her 29 years. She played a pivotal role in getting women's freeskiing events into the X Games and the Olympics, but she was equally passionate about teaching others. What stood out for everyone she came in contact with was the care she showed for others.
"She did a lot of amazing sports feats and changed her sport and got it into the Olympics and did all kinds of tricks first, but the really outstanding thing about her as a person was just who she was," said fellow freeskiing pioneer Mike Douglas. "She was gracious and humble and polite, and just everything you hope your daughter will be."
Burke fell while training for a sponsor's event at Park City, Utah on Jan. 10 last year. Although it wasn't a violent crash, she ruptured a vertebral artery and went into cardiac arrest and coma. She never awoke from the coma and passed away on Jan. 19.
Originally from Midland, Ontario, Burke started coming to Whistler to train at John Smart's Momentum Ski Camps as a 14 year old. Though she lived in Whistler, and California she finally settled in Squamish. She never left the Momentum camps where she coached as well.
"She never missed a year with us," said Smart.
It was at camp, as much as on the freeski circuit, that Sarah touched people.
"It didn't matter what she did or what she won, she was always incredibly rooted and humble," said Smart. "It always blew the minds of all the people who put her on a pedestal, and they would come to camp and Sarah would be sitting on the snow with them and talking to them. I remember one adult camper who was just trying to learn to slide rails and Sarah had just won X Games gold — but she stayed with him all day until he figured out how to nail this little four-foot rail, and I think she was more excited when he nailed it than he was. She was so real, so genuine with people.
"Her memory needs to stay alive because of who she was, and people need to know her story because we need more people like her," said Smart. "Her positivity was unbelievable. It didn't matter when or where, she had it all the time."
Florence Petersen made a promise to Myrtle Philip to keep Whistler's early history alive. But she promised, and delivered, much more than that.
The Whistler Museum and Archives Society is the manifestation of Florence's commitment to Whistler's first lady. Whistler's history — a cross-section that includes the pioneer years of Rainbow Lodge, the logging companies, the Olympic bids and the ski era — is well represented in the museum. But Florence's contribution to the history of the Whistler valley also includes several books. The last, First Tracks: Whistler's Early History, was published by the museum posthumously.
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