Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke has died.
Burke, 29, was seriously injured Jan. 10 in a training accident at the superpipe in Park City, Utah, she never regained consciousness after surgery.
Doctors said that Burke suffered a cardiac arrest during her accident. Doctors also said that Burke suffered a ruptured vertebral artery which led to intercranial bleeding.
Later tests showed that Burke had "sustained severe irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest,” a statement from the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association said.
"The family expresses their heartfelt gratitude for the international outpouring of support they have received from all the people Sarah touched," Burke's family said in a statement. Her organs will be donated to save the lives of others according to her wishes, the statement added.
"Female athletes everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Sarah’s passionate trailblazing efforts over the last 15 years. As the first competitive female freeskier, she successfully lobbied the Winter X Games to include women in freeskiing events on equal standing. It is because of Sarah’s efforts that female winter athletes are some of the only athletes in the world to receive equal prize purses to that of men," her agent wrote on a memorial page.
"It's what our lives are, being on the hill. There's a reason for that. It's amazing. It's where we met. It's where we play, we live, and hopefully where we'll die," Burke and her husband, fellow skier Rory Bushfield, said in a documentary. (see the excerpt below)
Burke was born Barrie, Ont., and grew up in nearby Midland before moving to Squamish, B.C. She's a four-time Winter X Games champion in skiing superpipe — a replica of snowboarding's halfpipe on skis. She lobbied aggressively to have the discipline included in the Olympics and was considered one of the top women's voices in the action sport's scene.
With the help of her lobbying, skiing halfpipe will make its debut at the Sochi Games in 2014.
A few weeks before the 2010 Olympics, while she was still struggling to get her sport included, Burke conceded in an interview with The Associated Press that it was frustrating to be on the outside looking in.
"I think we're all doing this, first off, because we love it and want to be the best," Burke said. "But I also think it would've been a great opportunity, huge for myself and for skiing and for everyone, if we could've gotten into the Olympics. It's sad. I mean, I'm super lucky to be where I am, but that would've been pretty awesome."
Canadian Freestyle Ski Association executive director Peter Judge called the 29-year-old's impact on the sport "significant."
"Sarah means so many things on so many levels," he said. "She's been a pioneer. She's was really one of the people that started out and led the sport in its very infancy and she rose to prominence very quickly and continued to ride that wave from the standpoint of trying to push the boundaries of the sport."
Burke was named the Best Female Action Sports Athlete by U.S. sports network ESPN in 2007.
Burke missed significant time in 2009 when she landed awkwardly and broke a vertebrae in her lower back. Since healing, she has returned to the top of her game and was scheduled to defend her title at the Winter X Games later this month in Aspen.
She came to terms with her injury quickly.
"I've been doing this for long time, 11 years," she said in a 2010 interview. "I've been very lucky with the injuries I've had. It's part of the game. Everybody gets hurt. Looking back on it, I'd probably do the exact same thing again."
— With files from The Associated Press, Canadian Press
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