The last time I sat down to write this column, I had just heard of the death of 20-year-old skier, Will Schooler. I urged you all to be safe on the mountain, we parted for a month, waited on some snow and then made our way to the slopes.
Kevin Pearce, a pro snowboarder who suffered severe head trauma over two years ago, rode again for the first time last month. With not a moment of tentativeness, he flew past the film crews who were all ready to document his return. The anxious crowd was relieved and moved by his ease and confidence in the snow. He still had it. The stickers and shirts that read, “I ride for Kevin,” were replaced with the phrase, “I ride with Kevin.” From hopeful to happening, the community was uplifted by the moment of triumph.
But, in even the simplest of forms, the sports world is filled with binary oppositions. The blessing of victory is met with the woe of loss.
On the very same halfpipe that Pearce fell in the winter of ’09, Sarah Burke, a 29-year-old pro skier, crashed two weeks ago while training for the Winter X Games. She ruptured her vertebral artery, went into a coma, and died nine days later on Jan. 19.
Respected for her continuous progression of women’s freeskiing and revered for her passion for life, she was, and always will be, an inspiration to athletes everywhere. The four-time Winter X Games medalist lobbied for the addition of women’s superpipe in the Olympics and was just at the start of her collection of medals and honors, family and life.
Both athletes wore helmets, and both crashed on the same pipe. One lived to ride again, and the other left behind a legacy. It’s hard to pin; eerie, tragic, unfair? For one, we mourn the loss and damage that is irreversible. For the other, we cherish survival and restoration.
While friends and competitors remember Burke’s life, they continue to practice, progress and perfect for the Winter X games, the four-day event beginning Thursday morning in Aspen, Colorado. There will undoubtedly be an aura of sorrow, but they will continue to compete as she would. By Monday, headlines will be exalting the newest trick landed and the newest athlete discovered, recognized and awarded. Records that stand today will be broken in this week’s events. And in the surpass, people will slowly move on.
It is in the undetermined moments of life, in the seconds we can’t predict, that we are met with our worst nightmares and our happiest successes.
With death, it is near impossible to find the beauty in the uncertainty of life, but we can always lift our heads and ride on. And just as people rode for Kevin, they will ski for Sarah.
This week and beyond.