Sarah Burke on why “overcoming fear is the best feeling in the world”

‘It’s definitely a mental game’


(David Zalubowski/AP)

By now, everyone knows about Tuesday’s horrific accident that left Canadian Sarah Burke, one of the planet’s best freeskiers, in a coma in a Utah hospital, her long-term prognosis unknown.

Anyone who has watched Burke’s sport knows what incredible courage it takes to hurtle oneself into the air—particularly knowing what happens when things go terribly wrong, as they did for her longtime friend, fellow skier C.R. Johnson, who died in a horrific crash two years ago. Burke, perhaps more than most, was aware of the potential for harm.

In an eye-opening interview in Aspen last year, she spoke to Maclean’s about how fear had crept into her game. Two years earlier, she’d broken her back at the Winter X Games. That fall, it seems, had done more than just physical damage.

“I try to play off that it isn’t a big deal,” Burke told Maclean’s. “But in truth, [fear] has gotten to me. It’s rough.”

Burke hits the pipe the same way snowboaders do, spinning and flipping above its 22-foot walls, but on skis. A confluence of pressures–financial and competitive–along with a love of adventure, have increased the size of halfpipes, tossing athletes higher and higher in the air, demanding from them more difficult and dangerous tricks.

“It’s definitely a mental game,” she told Maclean’s. “And I have a really bad imagination. I can think the worst thing on a jump.”

To Burke, the gold medal she picked up at last January’s Winter X Games was her “proudest moment.” It had been “such a struggle to get back,” she explained—first the back, then surgery to repair a shoulder injury.

Burke left Aspen reassured—physically, she was back on top. An Olympic gold at Sochi was well within her reach.

There was only one thing left to beat, she told Maclean’s. And she was learning to combat her fear. She had a method.

“I have to picture the jump in my head, and know I can do it.” Still, she acknowledged, “It’s always scary.”

“But the feeling I get after I land it? It’s worth it.”

“Being scared,” she added, “is a good thing. But overcoming it is the best feeling in the world.”

At this point, it is still too early to tell what lies ahead for the Canadian athlete.

The Utah hospital caring for her announced today that a tear to an artery that had caused bleeding between her skull and brain has been successfully repaired. For now, Burke remains in a self- medically induced coma.

Tears like the one she suffered, however, can disrupt blood flow to the brain, and, in serious cases, can cause brain damage, even death.

Only after observing brain function in the days ahead will the neurosurgeon caring for Burke, William Couldwell, make any “definitive pronouncements about Sarah’s prognosis for recovery.”

For Burke’s family, her friends and many fans, it is a waiting game, agonizing, cruel, unending to those who love her best.


Sarah Burke on why “overcoming fear is the best feeling in the world”

  1. CR wasn’t on a training run.  Sarah is in a medically induced coma, not self induced.

  2. This is simply terrible reporting written in horribly bad taste.  From the insert of ‘[fear]”, which is a presumption, to the distasteful way in which self is included and then scratched out.  This will leave a bad taste in the mouths of many Canadians, fans, and loved ones.  Shame on you.

  3. Glad you decided on a change in the title, and to see that you corrected your mistake about CR being killed on a training run. It would also be nice to see the author clear up the other bad choices made when writing this article, namely their choice of having self included, but scratched out, just before induced coma.  It is not logical.  Should it be suggested that every person who suffers head trauma and is put in an induced coma from a car accident, even if they were buckled up, suffers from self induced coma?  No!  Nor should it be suggested that Burke’s coma is self induced.  She was wearing proper head protection.  This was simply a fluke accident.  Choosing to have such an negative undertone to this piece is just bad taste and bad reporting!

  4. I hope her medical, hospitalization costs are insured!

    • Keep your snarky judgements to yourself.. she coaches and competes all over the world, of course she has health insurance. What a stupid remark. Is that really all you can offer here?

      This is Macleans for goodness sake – lose the ‘self induced’ comment and now! – I expect more from this publication. 

    • I couldn’t agree more with Jellybean!  The self induced
      comment NEEDS to be omitted.  Macleans should see to it.  It makes
      the publication look bad.  If I was the publication, I would also rethink
      considering Nancy Macdonald a reliable contributor.  She’s already had
      to correct two mistakes in this article.

  5. We must speak with him. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXKV78VERio&feature=colike

  6. Im assuming that all doing  this sport are drinking Monster Drink or similar –it surely is advertised by her team and is encouraged –and why not?–whats wrong with an extra foot or spin. I and a lot of other people feel that in reality here really are no accidents, I hope she recovers from this.

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