In January, Canadian champion skier Sarah Burke died after a training accident in Park City, Utah. Since her death, fans have raised more than $300,000 to cover the medical expenses incurred as a result of the accident, a bill that otherwise would have been the sole burden of her family, bringing to light the gaps in insurance coverage that athletes can potentially face.
"She was to freeskiing what Wayne Gretzky was to hockey or Michael Jordan was to basketball - the iconic face of a sport," wrote Sportsnet reporter Dan Robson after Burke's death. "She built her world by conquering limits, both on the hill and off it."
The 29-year-old skier was a defending champion in the Winter X Games and a pioneer in her sport, women's half-pipe, which involves performing tricks midair and scoring based on difficulty of tricks and form. The potential for risk is apparent, but Burke was performing a simple maneuver when she crashed and ruptured a vertebral artery.
As a Canadian citizen, Burke's surgery and subsequent hospital care would have been fully covered by the country's public health insurance. Even while traveling abroad, she was still covered - but only for the value that the services would have cost in Canada, where medical services are much more inexpensive than in the US and elsewhere in the world.
As an Olympic competitor, Burke also had $5 million in medical coverage through the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, but the policy only covered sanctioned events and training where coaches were present, not the privately sponsored event for which she was training.
"It's a really good policy - one used by most athletic associations in Canada," Kelley Korbin, media relations manager for the Canadian Freestyle Association, told msnbc.com.
Costs of Burke's medical care are estimated to be about $200,000, according to Burke's publicist. Through a fundraising page set up in Burke's memory, fans have raised more than enough to cover the costs. The remainder will be used to set up a legacy fund in Burke's name.
Burke's death cast a shadow on this year's Winter X Games, held a week after her death. A vigil was held in her honor, and her death was on the minds of all the competitors. To honor her memory, WinSport Canada announced The Sarah Burke Performance Award, which will be awarded to Canadian skiers who win an event at an international competition.