Rory Bushfield motivated by late wife Sarah Burke

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Associated Press

Posted on May 9, 2013 at 2:05 PM

Updated Thursday, May 9 at 3:03 PM

In his time on a celebrity reality TV show centered around diving, extreme freeskier Rory Bushfield quickly learned he prefers deep powder to the deep end.

Granted, Bushfield has broken a vertebra in his back, cracked his collar bone, fractured his left arm — three times — and bruised his ribs in his big mountain pursuits, but those pains really didn't quite compare to awkwardly landing in the pool during the show called "Splash." He ruptured his right eardrum so severely on a dive gone wrong that doctors warned him not to compete in the final. He did anyway and won the competition.

The experience — ruptured eardrum and all — was definitely well worth it.

After all, the show gave him a platform to let the world know all about his late wife and freestyle icon, Sarah Burke.

Ever so steadily, Bushfield is picking up the pieces after the death of Burke in a halfpipe training accident 16 months ago. He's returned to skiing, even going over to Europe twice in search of waist-deep powder. He's traveled around Australia with the Nitro Circus Tour — an adrenalin-filled action-sports show — ventured to Mexico to surf, started a foundation in Burke's memory and did some other things he never thought he would do.

Namely, participate in a dive show that also featured celebrities such as NBA Hall of Famer Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, comedian Louie Anderson and Detroit Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh.

Bushfield does as much as he can, whenever he can, simply because it's what Burke would've wanted.

"If the tables were turned, I'd certainly want Sarah to take it all in, just be the best she could be," Bushfield said in a phone interview. "That's what I always wanted for her and she always wanted for me. I can't imagine doing it any other way."

Talking about the accident remains extremely difficult for Bushfield. Burke, who was born in Ontario and lived in Squamish, British Columbia, was training in Park City, Utah, when she fell in the halfpipe. The 29-year-old sustained irreversible brain damage when one of the arteries supplying her brain ruptured and died nine days later on Jan. 19, 2012.

Chatting about the spirit of Burke, though, now that's something he can go on and on about.

"She inspires me every day," Bushfield said. "She inspires people around me. I like for her to be remembered. I'm happy to talk about her as much as anybody wants.

"It's sad for me, obviously, to think about what happened. But Sarah, she's a constant source of a smile for me. It's good for me to talk about her."

Ask him about the foundation he helped launch and his voice instantly perks up. Ask him about the scholarships they just handed out and he gushes.

The Sarah Burke Foundation was originally only going to pick two scholarship winners for its inaugural awards. But they couldn't decide on only two, so added another. Landon McGauley, 18, Taryn Baker, 15, and Winter Vinecki, 14, all received $7,500 grants as recipients of the "Up and Coming Scholarship Awards."

"It's super cool to give in Sarah's name. That's what she would want to do now," Bushfield said. "I know she believed she was an inspirational person and was motivated a lot by inspiring others.

"But I don't think she knew how big her reach was. I always thought she had an amazing reach, but I didn't fathom just how big."

Burke was a driving force behind the International Olympic Committee's decision to bring slopestyle, along with Burke's specialty, halfpipe skiing, into the Sochi Olympics next winter in Russia.

"I'll definitely be there to cheer it all on," Bushfield said.

A nation cheered on Bushfield as he became a reality TV star. He was given pointers by the likes of Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis, which Bushfield put to good use on the 7-meter board.

"Greg told me, 'Just relax and you'll be fine,'" Bushfield recounted. "Just having a rhythm in the takeoff — he helped me a lot with that."

Louganis was simply passing the dive knowledge forward.

"The role suited me MUCH better and I knew would challenge my creativity," Louganis said in an email. "I jumped at it, and dived right in! Haha!"

Despite his success on the diving board, Bushfield vowed to stick with powder skiing.

"I'm in love with skiing. I'll always be a skier," said Bushfield, who still has ringing in his ear from the ruptured eardrum. "I'm glad I did the competition, though. I've always been just a little bit of a just-say-yes-and-do-my-best sort of person. Just live my life."

A brief pause.

"I take inspiration from my wife, Sarah," Bushfield continued. "She did the same thing. That's a huge inspiration for me, a big motivation.

"Try to do everything I can, and smile along the way."

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Online: http://sarahburkefoundation.com

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