Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate |

Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

So I’ve been really torn up over Sarah Burke, the professional freeskier who died last week after an injury she sustained during a training halfpipe training session in Park City.

I didn’t know Sarah, no. I knew of her, of course. You can’t be a female who lives in a ski town and not know who Sarah Burke is.

Since her death, I’ve been reading every article looking at every photo and watching every video of her I can get my hands on. I donated money to help pay for her medical expenses. I don’t know why, but I just can’t stop.

The other day I sobbed after watching an interview with Sarah and her husband Rory that included a lot of footage from their recent wedding. He told the story of how he had written “Marry Me” in the snow and hired a bush plane to fly over it. He talked about how they’d known each other their whole lives.

They talked about their engagement. “It took you forever to ask me to marry you,” she said.

I think a true sign of a man in love is one who constantly talks about his partner, who loves to brag about her and share stories as if the simple act of saying her name out loud is enough.

I remember in the early stages of my relationship with Ryan when we’d get separated at a party and I’d eavesdrop because I was still insecure. But more often than not, he’d be talking about me. That’s when I knew I had nothing to worry about. Even when I wasn’t with him, I knew, I was always with him.

Rory does that in the interview. He goes, “My wife is going to the Olympics. How cool is that?”

The story of Sarah’s life and career has been broadcast all over the world: That she was a pioneer for women’s freeskiing and for freeskiing in general, fighting to get women into her sport and to get her sport into the Olympics. She was a champion, at the top of her field, but she also helped elevate her sport as a whole. In doing so, she inspired female athletes everywhere to reach for their goals, no matter how high. Even though it’s no consolation to those who loved her, she left behind an impressive legacy for someone who was only 29 years old.

I didn’t know Sarah, but I know the industry and its history very well – especially where women are concerned. I watched the progression of women in sports like skiing and snowboarding from the late ’90s, back when manufacturers were just starting to figure out how marketable and capable their female athletes were. They also started to understand young women needed and cherished role models as much as boys did. In some ways, I think young girls are even more passionate than boys when it comes to their passion for their heroes.

I wrote the first-ever feature story about women in Transworld Snowboarding magazine and the first-ever feature story about female surfers in Surfer magazine in the late ’90s. I was there when Sims released the first female pro signature snowboard, the Shannon Dunn. It was red with big sunflowers on the tip and tail. I think I spent more time staring at that board than I did actually riding it. I cherished it and revered everything it stood for.

I’ve been writing about action sports for almost two decades and have become very close with a lot of athletes who take serious risks more often than I wish they would. I can’t help but worry that the odds of something bad happening go up over time (rather than lesson with their experience) just because of their exposure to the danger. I worry that their luck will run out, that their skills will not be able to save them when they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s a long list of those we’ve lost for that reason. It was an accident. There was nothing they could have done to prevent it – except not being out there in the first place, and that’s simply not an option. What they do is who they are.

I’ve interviewed a lot of athletes about that very thing. I’ve talked to their wives, who say they’ve had to learn to accept it. “It’s like being married to a firefighter or a pilot,” one of them told me. “It’s who he is.”

I have one friend who once said she’s not allowed to express her doubt to her husband, or her fear, not ever. He told her even the smallest seed of doubt could affect his focus and risk his life. So she doesn’t talk to him about it. When he is out in remote areas in the face of danger and she is home with their two children, she doesn’t let herself go there. She can’t.

Sarah’s accident was tragic and heartbreaking, but it’s not because halfpipes are getting too big or her sport is getting too dangerous. It’s not about her death – it’s about her life.

I don’t know why this story hit me so hard. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman and I’m a female athlete. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a part of this little snow-sports world for so long. Maybe it’s because I’m a newlywed and my level of joy and happiness is so great that I’m terrified it’s too good to be true. In the back of my mind, I’m always worried it could all be taken away from me in a split second. And it can.

Never has my heart been so full of gratitude. I am thankful for my love and my life. And I am thankful to you, Sarah Burke, for everything you did for future generations of female athletes. You will be immortalized in the legacy you left behind, forever an inspiration.

Ride in peace.

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