SPORTS

Canada's freestyle skiers arrive in Calgary remembering Sarah Burke

01/25/2012 03:21 EST | Updated 03/26/2012 05:12 EDT
CALGARY - Freestyle skier Warren Shouldice isn't feeling sorry for himself after packing in his season because of a concussion.

The reigning world champion in aerials can't indulge in self-pity when comparing his situation to that of Canadian halfpipe skier Sarah Burke, who died last week from injuries sustained in a fall.

"I said with this Sarah and with myself, sometimes there are things that happen that are out of your control," Shouldice said Wednesday.

"It puts everything I've been going through in perspective. I can't feel that bad about it when she lost her life."

Canada's top moguls skiers and aerialists will wear "SB" stickers on their helmets in memory of Burke at this weekend's World Cup at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park.

WinSport Canada, which oversees COP, announced Wednesday it has established an award in Burke's name. Any Canadian athlete who finishes on the podium at a World Cup event at the park will receive $5,000.

Even though the athletes competing in Calgary this weekend are in different freestyle disciplines than Burke, her death rocked their tight-knit community.

Continuing to compete is one way of healing, according to the CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association.

"It's pretty clearly recognized among all of them that that is what Sarah would have wanted," said Peter Judge.

"It's at the stage now where people are remembering her and what she was in a good way and in the many, many ways that she touched people."

The Canadian athletes closest to Burke are her halfpipe teammates currently competing at the X-Games in Aspen, Colo. Burke would have been there this week attempting to defend her women's superpipe title Saturday.

Keltie Hansen, Rosalind Groenewoud, Megan Gunning and Dara Howell are the Canadians in the superpipe field in Aspen. ESPN is scheduled to air a tribute to Burke on Thursday evening.

Shouldice hoped to defend his World Cup aerials title in his hometown of Calgary. The 28-year-old was the victor in Calgary last year and used that momentum as a launching pad to a world title.

Shouldice believes he sustained the concussion over a couple of falls during training in December at Apex Mountain in B.C.

He landed a couple of jumps with a "slap-back", meaning he fell backwards onto the snow and bounced upright.

It wasn't until a week later back in Calgary, when he had a searing headache and became dizzy lifting weights, that Shouldice realized something was wrong.

After missing the first two World Cups of the season with concussion symptoms, and with no Olympics or world championships on this season's schedule, Shouldice decided to take the season off from competition. He says it is the fourth concussion of his career.

"It's absolutely the right decision. There's no other option. This is my head," Shouldice said. "This is more than just the next two years of my career. This is my entire life that I could potentially put at risk if I try to rush back."

Despite the retirement of moguls star Jenn Heil, the partial season sabbatical of Olympic champion Alex Bilodeau and Shouldice's injury, the Canadian freestyle team remains deep in moguls and aerials.

The freestyle squad is coming off a banner 2010-11 season with eight world titles, a dozen medals won at the world championship and another 42 in World Cup competition.

Canadians have won nine medals at the first four World Cups of this season.

Mikael Kingsbury of Deux-Montagnes, Que., leads the men's moguls standings with four wins at four events. Bilodeau is competing in select events this season to limit wear and tear on his body ahead of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Montreal ranks second in women's moguls with her sisters Chloe and Maxime also in the top 10.

Olivier Rochon of Gatineau, Que., a former gymnast, has stepped up in Shouldice's absence to lead World Cup men's aerials.

"One of the most gratifying things for us is to know we've got system strength," Judge said. "We've got these young guys who can come through and perform almost right away on demand. It means we're doing the right things."

Competition gets underway Saturday with men's and women's moguls, followed by aerials on Sunday.

Canada won't have a woman in aerials in Calgary. The country's top female, Montreal's Sabrina Guerin, is out with an Achilles injury.

In the wake of his injury and Burke's death, Shouldice refutes the notion freestyle is not a safe sport.

"I would say they probably don't have all the facts, anybody who says it's not safe," Shouldice said. "Yes, every sport is dangerous especially the action sports like we are. But it's a very calculated risk.

"We have the best facilities and the best coaches and the best equipment available to us. We're taking all the necessary precautions. Driving your car is still way more dangerous than doing aerials."

WinSport Canada's new Sarah Burke Award will be retroactive to the beginning of the 2011-12 season, which makes Calgary luger Alex Gough the first recipient. She won gold in World Cup luge Dec. 16 at COP.

"I think it affected everyone in the sport community when she passed away," Gough said in a WinSport statement. "I think it's a great way to commemorate her memory and what she did for sport and women in sport."

MORE:cpSports