Skier Sarah Burke dies from injuries
Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke died in hospital on Thursday, nine days after she was severely injured at the bottom of a routine training run in Utah.
Burke suffered the injury, characterized by a freestyle ski official as a "freak accident," while training at the Eagle Superpipe at Park City Mountain Resort on January 10.
The 29-year-old later underwent surgery, but imaging studies revealed that she had suffered irreversible brain damage due to lack of oxygen.
Burke was a four-time winner at the Winter X Games, and was considered a pioneer in the sport.
She lobbied successfully to have the sport brought into the Olympics, where it will debut at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, and was considered a favourite to win gold.
Named as the Best Female Action Sports Athlete by ESPN in 2007, Burke spent her early years in Barrie, Ont., but lived in Squamish, B.C.
Despite breaking a vertebrae in her lower back during a fall and missing significant time in 2009, she had bounced back and was due to again compete in the Winter X Games this month.
Burke was attempting a relatively common aerial trick called a flatspin 540 when the crash occurred.
Peter Judge, CEO from the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, characterized the fatal outcome as a "freak accident" turned tragic. "It seems to be more of a fluke outcome than anything else," he told reporters Thursday.
When asked about the dangerous nature of the sport, Judge said that officials attempt to make it as safe as possible.
"There is an element of risk in any sport. There is an element of risk walking down the street," he said.
"That is why they train so carefully, that is why there's so much safety built in," he added,referring to venues and equipment such as helmets.
"Nothing is going to eliminate all accidents."
Hospital officials say that during the fall, Burke ruptured her vertebral artery, which is one of the four major arteries that supplies blood to the brain.
The rupture led to a brain hemorrhage, which caused Burke to go into cardiac arrest as she lay motionless on the ski course.
Following the fall, Burke did not have a pulse and wasn't breathing, and emergency crews gave her CPR.
Once at the hospital, doctors placed her on life support and used therapeutic hypothermia in an effort to protect her brain. Hospital officials say that she later retained functions in her brainstem.
A day after the accident, doctors repaired the damaged artery, but further testing showed that Burke's brain was irreversibly damaged, due to lack of oxygen and blood.
Canadian Olympic Committee President, Marcel Aubut, said Burke's death is a loss for the sporting community and the country.
"Today, Canada and the world lost a wonderful athlete and a great Canadian ambassador in freestyle skier Sarah Burke," he said in a statement.
"Sarah was a true inspiration to all who had the privilege to know her, especially to the new generation of athletes in this country as she helped define the superpipe discipline in the sport of freestyle skiing."
Alpine Canada president Max Gartner issued a statement late Thursday.
"We are very saddened to learn of Sarah's passing. On behalf of Alpine Canada, I'd like to extend our sincere sympathies to the family and friends of Sarah and to the freestyle community. The loss of such a great athlete is a tragedy for the entire ski and sport community."
Sarah Burke is survived by her husband Rory, parents Jan and Gordon and sister Anna.
A website has been set up to accept donations to help pay for Sarah's medical costs and related expenses.
The goal is to raise $550,000 and so far almost $4500 has been collected.
Visit the GiveForward website for more information and to make a donation.
(With files from ctv.ca)