When it was known freestyle skier Sarah Burke lost her fight for survival, there was a silence in the Toronto Today office.
I let out a whimpering, “Oh”, and continued about my work with Canada’s passing doing the slalom in my head.
The loss of an athlete in their prime always affects sports fans young and old. The stories of Pelle Lindbergh, Sean Taylor, Nodar Kumaritaschvili and the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team come to mind.
But one detail surfaced in the wake of Burke’s Jan. 10 fall during a training exercise in Park City, Utah.
While still in the process of grieving, her husband Rory Bushfield and family were slapped with a hefty bill from the hospital. That number was at first $550,000 but later dropped to $200,000.
It’s enough to raise concern with parents of young alpine denizens aspiring to follow the same path as Burke.
As sports editor, I’ve come across the hidden population that takes to the modest slopes of Ontario and Quebec with an unrivaled tenacity.
Students from Lawrence Park CI compete annually in both slalom and more recently snowboarding. The Radvanyi sisters in Toronto’s west-end look up to snowboarders like Michael Lambert.
Two skiers from Branksome Hall had been on the FIS circuit for two seasons before emphasizing schoolwork before packed powder. One, Jacquie Flannery, met her hero Nancy Greene on a trip to B.C.
So the expenses of the worst-case scenarios are very visceral to those involved at the amateur level, both parents and kids.
Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Skiing Association, says Burke’s case is a rarity.
Because Burke was partaking in a non-sanctioned training event when she was injured, her insurance coverage did not fall under the purview of the CFSA.
“There are lots of cases where athletes undertake activities that are outside the scope of what they would normally do and it’s up to their parties to ensure they have the coverage for that larger blanket,” Judge said.
But he assuages the fears of FIS skiers.
“Obviously if they are competing in those venues they’re covered because they’re in a sanctioned venue and they are covered under the blanket insurance policies,” he said. “But again, as is the case with anything outside of the purview of that, you make sure there has been due diligence to understand what is covered and what is not.”
That’s not to say Burke did not have coverage outside of sanctioned avenues.
Still, with such a hefty hospital bill, Burke’s agent Michael Spencer went to work to raise money to help the family cover their costs. A new foundation has been created from the 29-year-old’s untimely departure and the family has raised over $300,000 from fans, friends and family.
Spencer responded in a quick email due to his busy schedule.
“(The family) ultimately wants to wait at least until we make announcements about the celebration for Sarah and the foundation,” he wrote.
I spoke with Olympic snowboarder Michael Lambert about the loss of Burke to understand the effect it’s had at ground level.
“It’s so sad to lose someone when they’re doing something that they love,” he said. “Just so many of us go out and do that every day and to see this happen to someone … is scary.”
As for Judge, the overwhelming response from fans to Spencer’s work is a testament to Burke’s amiable personality.
“The outpouring of support is really a barometer of the type of person she was,” Judge said. “She was very unassuming, broad-scoped in her reach and just an unbelievably likeable person.”