Village packed for Sarah's celebration 

Friends, family members vow to keep her spirit alive

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BONNY MAKAREWICZWWW.BONMAKPHOTO.COM - Strength in a smileAn emotional Rory Bushfield draws strength from a photo of his wife Sarah Burke at her celebration of life on Tuesday.
  • Photo BY bonny makarewiczwww.bonmakphoto.com
  • Strength in a smileAn emotional Rory Bushfield draws strength from a photo of his wife Sarah Burke at her celebration of life on Tuesday.

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He told a story of a trip to Whistler 14 years ago —Burke was 15 at the time, and would have been in her second year with Momentum Ski Camps on the Blackcomb Glacier. He gave his daughter some money to buy something special for herself to remember the trip while he enjoyed a drink with friends at a local pub.

An hour went by and there was a tap at the window. It was Burke. "And she had spent all of her money to remember the trip on a shirt. For me."

Gord wore that same cherished shirt to her celebration of life, by now full of holes from so much use. "I love this shirt," he told the crowd.

Kindness was also the theme that Burke's husband Rory Bushfield focused on in his speech.

He told the crowd about a day when he and Sarah were rushing from their Squamish home to get to the airport for a Costa Rica holiday. It was raining and Bushfield was anxious to get started.

Unfortunately Burke's jeep wouldn't start, so Bushfield jumped up and quickly transferred their luggage to his truck. When he was done, Burke was gone.

"I'm looking around, and there she is in the ditch," he said. "She's down there with a kid from down the street with Down syndrome who's always concerned with keeping the water moving through the ditch... She says to me, 'hold on a second, we're clearing the ditch here.'

"She drained the ditch and we made the flight like always... but the moral is that she was so kind. It wasn't the gold medals and all the amazing things she did, but all the little things."

Trennon Paynter, who has been Burke's halfpipe coach for years — back when athletes had to cough up their own money to hire a coach for a self-funded national team, with no official status or funding for the sport in Canada — talked about the influence she had on her sport and the tenacity that would help the sport into the Olympics in 2014.

She didn't do it for money or fame, Paynter said, but because she loved it, and she wanted other women to do it with her. Some of her toughest competitors on the pro circuit were her former students at Momentum — but on her best day, Burke was still the girl to beat.

Paynter said her death has brought the freeskiing community closer together, and especially the national halfpipe team.

"It will never be the same without her, but when we walk into the Olympic stadium in Sochi, Sarah is going to be the one leading the team."

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