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A Shining Star Extinguished: MomsTeam Remembers Sarah Burke

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We at MomsTeam are deeply saddened by the passing of Sarah Burke, Canadian freestyle skier and a pioneer of the superpipe event, who died January 19th from injuries she received in an accident nine days earlier while training for the upcoming Winter X Games at Park City Mountain, Utah.

Sarah was a freeskiing pioneer, six-time X Games gold medalist and beloved wife, daughter, sister and friend; an athlete whose star shone brightly well beyond her sport; a star whose light has now, tragically, been extinguished, forever.  We join in expressing our condolences to her family and at the loss of such a remarkable young woman. 

I had an opportunity to meet Sarah during my ten days at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada and at nearby Whistler Mountain, the venue for most of the ski and snowboard events, where Sarah trained, and near where she grew up. Her event was on the men's program, but not yet recognized as an Olympic sport on the women's side.  I remember Sarah actively lobbying at the time to have her sport added to the 2014 Olympic program.

As readers of this space know, I am a huge and lifelong fan of the Olympics. I grew up skiing on the icy slopes of southern Vermont, dreaming of someday competing in the Games myself.  As someone who has devoted many years to advocating on behalf of female athletes and for a greater role of women in sports, both as coaches and administrators, I took an immediate interest in Sarah mission, and was thrilled when the International Olympic Committee voted to add women's superpipe skiing to the program for the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia. Had her life not been cut short, Sarah would have been the odds-on favorite for a gold medal.

Sarah left an indelible impression on many, many people, but especially women in sports. Her amazing, loving spirit will live on, not only among her fellow athletes, but the entire sporting world. She will be greatly missed.

Reprinted here, in case you haven't seen it elsewhere on the Web, is the statement from Sarah's family released by her publicist, Nicole Wool, yesterday:

January 19, 2012

Groundbreaking Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke passed away at 9:22AM January 19, 2012 at the University of Utah Hospital from injuries sustained in an accident on the Eagle Superpipe at Park City Mountain Resort on Tuesday, January 10, 2012. She was training for upcoming winter events.

As the result of Sarah's fall, she suffered a ruptured vertebral artery, one of the four major arteries supplying blood to the brain. The rupture of this artery led to a severe intracranial hemorrhage, which caused Sarah to go into cardiac arrest on the scene. Emergency personnel responded and CPR was administered on the scene during which time she remained without a pulse or spontaneous breathing. Studies in the University of Utah Hospital Emergency Department indicated that she retained brainstem function. She was placed on life support and a protocol of therapeutic hypothermia was initiated to protect her brain. An angiogram indicated the site of arterial bleeding, and on Wednesday, January 11 the injured artery was successfully repaired.

After the operation, numerous neurological examinations, electrodiagnostic tests and imaging studies revealed that Sarah sustained severe irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest, resulting in hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. Sarah passed away peacefully surrounded by those she loved. In accordance with Sarah's wishes, her organs and tissues were donated to save the lives of others.

While early reports in the media stated that Sarah's injury was a traumatic brain injury, it is important to note that Sarah's condition was the result of a lack of oxygen to the brain during cardiac arrest.

The family wishes to express their deep gratitude to Sarah's dear friends for their love and support, and for traveling to Salt Lake City to comfort the family.

They would also like to thank the University of Utah Hospital and her physicians and care team in the Neuro Critical Care Unit for their incredible care and compassion.

The family was moved by the sincere and heartfelt sympathy expressed by people inspired by Sarah from all around the world. They have received a substantial number of inquiries from those who would like to make a contribution on behalf of Sarah. For more information, please go to www.giveforward.com/sarahburke.

A public celebration of Sarah's life will be held in the coming weeks.

Sources: Statement from Sarah Burke's family - GlobalTVEdmonton.com Jan. 19, 2012; Freestyle star sustains serious head injury in training - New York Times Jan. 12, 2012

Questions/comments? Contact Brooke de Lench delench@momsteam.com