Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Chat With Sarah Burke


I think it was 2008. I logged onto the
old Facebook (before they started
changing it). I wasn't big on chats,
but saw that Sarah Burke was
"available to chat." She wasn't
someone I knew, but I had requested
the FB friendship and she accepted.

What do you say to Sarah Burke ?
It had only been one year since she won
the gold medal at the X Games in
Aspen and was voted Best Female
Action Sports Athlete at the ESPY
Awards. She was a rockstar of the
freestyle skiing world. A supermodel
on the red carpet. And loved by all.

I pulled up her page and saw that
she had exactly 2000 friends. So
that's where I started. I typed,
"How can you have 2000 friends?"
and hit enter. I waited with
anticipation; there was a pretty
good chance she wouldn't even
respond.

"I don't know," she responded;
"they're all my real friends."
The elephant in the room was me.

I chopped back, "Seems like it
would be hard to have actual
friendships with that many
people."

"Not for me," she said. I looked
at her FB photo. She was beautiful.
"They are really all my friends."

I changed the subject. "I want to
ask you about your health. I know
your sport well, and I know lots
of the competitors get hurt quite
often. Is that the case with you ?"

Sarah Burke went on to tell me that
she had broken bones many times,
and that her 25-year old body was
like a 60-year old's. She said everything
hurt all the time, and that some days
it was really hard to get out of bed.
She was not coy in her descriptions
of trauma, injuries, or ongoing pain.

I told Sarah that I teach Tai Chi, and
that many athletes have found great
relief with the practice. I told her that
there are a lot of great teachers in
British Colombia, including my
teacher Victor Fu.

Sarah Burke said she was very interested
in learning, and that it made sense to
her to start trying to repair some of the
damage she had done to herself.
She then said she traveled a lot, and
hoped that if and when things settled
down for her that she would try to start.

I offered to send her a DVD. She said
we could hold off for now, but that she
wanted to get back to me on it. Suddenly
she was whisked away to chat with one
of her real friends, and I was left with
the feeling that Sarah Burke was one
genuinely nice person.

But now I'm mad.

Even on the day of her death, people
were talking about how her successful
lobbying to add the Superpipe to the
2014 Sochi Winter Olympics would be
a tribute to her life. Few would stand up
and cry, "this sport is too risky, and the
death of this girl is the clearest indicator !"

Sarah Burke, with a battered and broken
body, was out pounding the pipe, pushing
the limits, and every day stretching for
more amplitude. She could strive to meet
the mind-bending tricks of Shawn White--
table-top 1080's or roast beef on rye or
whatever-the-hell they call those things--
but she took those risks with a body
that was far from "sound." And yes
folks, she was wearing a helmet which
didn't do a damn thing to save her.

Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic
brain injury in the same superpipe
at Park City Mountain Resort. His
career is over and he's lucky to be
alive.

In an interview after the 2011 X Games,
Scotty Lago rattled off this gem:
"I just really wasn't sure if I was able to
compete or not. A couple doctors told me
I shouldn't; and a couple doctors told me
I couldn't injure myself any worse because
the bone's actually not healing, (points to
his cheek) it's just free-floating in there."

When you watch the Superpipe in the
2014 Sochi Olympics, and see these
athletes fly flipping and spinning into
the sky, remember that your entertainment
is fueled by young people who get
severely injured all the time and even die.

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