First In Flight
The other day in the mountains of British Columbia, Rory Bushfield sat in the passenger seat of a small airplane flying low to the ground. In a precise location, he threw his skis out the window to land on the snow below. Flying a little higher in the sky, he launched out of the plane himself with a parachute strapped to his back and BASE jumped through the sky to the mountain, to the exact spot where his skis were waiting for him. He then skied down the mountain.
On his parachute, one word was written in cursive red letters: Sarah.
Rory Bushfield, or "Bushy" as he's known among friends, hasn't slowed down much in the three years since he lost his wife, legendary freeskier Sarah Burke, who died in January 2012 from injuries sustained in a halfpipe crash. Instead, Bushfield's chosen to fully live out Burke's philosophy of making each day one to remember.
On social media, he's adopted the hashtag #blowitifyougotit, which he says basically means get out there and get after it. "You only live once. So you've got to blow it if you've got it. Be generous if you have the opportunity to," he says. "I try my best to live how Sarah did."
Generosity was integral to Burke's personality -- she was known for donating her contest winnings to causes she cared about, she volunteered her time coaching young skiers and she fought hard to get halfpipe skiing added to the Olympics. Bushfield hopes to continue that legacy, and through his work at the Sarah Burke Foundation, he and others have helped give out thousands of dollars in scholarships to rising skiers and other athletes in Burke's name over the past three years.
Bushfield and Burke first met in 1999, at a ski camp in Whistler. They were both teenagers, both top-ranked mogul skiers. He was from Alberta, she was from Ontario. "I first saw her ski and I thought she was a guy," Bushfield remembers. "But then I realized she was this beautiful girl. I was like, 'Who is that?'"
Years later, he proposed to her by writing 'Marry Me, Sarah!' in the snow and flying her in his airplane overhead. They got married outside, surrounded by birch trees and mountains, in Pemberton, British Columbia, in summer 2010. When they weren't traveling the world looking for exotic adventures, they lived together in a home they remodeled themselves in Squamish, British Columbia.
Together, they pushed each other to be the best they could be. Throughout her career, Burke won win six X Games gold medals and became the first woman to land a 720, a 900 and a 1080 in competition. She appeared in countless ski movies and helped motivate an entire generation of young women to enter the world of freeskiing.
Meanwhile, Bushfield, who got his start competing at the X Games, became a veritable ski movie star, appearing in more than 30 films made by companies such as Poor Boyz Productions, Matchstick Productions and Sherpas Cinemas.
"That was the beautiful part about our relationship -- we got to encourage each other to live as large as we could," Bushfield says. "I try to live that same life now." After Burke died, Bushfield took up BASE jumping, the high-risk sport of soaring off natural or manmade structures with a parachute. He completed his first jump in November 2013 on a bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho. Last fall, he traveled with a friend and Burke's dad, Gord, to Thailand and Bali, where Bushfield did his first cliff BASE jump over the white sand beaches of Krabi, Thailand.
Bushfield also spends a lot of time piloting his own plane. Last summer, he discovered he could land his plane on remote beaches on Canada's Vancouver Island when the tide was low. So he'd scout a potential surf wave from the air, then create a landing strip on the sandy beach.
Over the last couple of years, he's done two live tours with the Nitro Circus crew, performing wild stunts on rollerskis, and he's currently working on filming for the next Nitro Circus movie, where he'll be seen BASE jumping, sky diving, and jumping over cars and off cliffs.
While a lot of what he does may seem crazy from the outside, he says it's all much more calculated than it looks. "Everything I do is studied and thought out. I don't go before I know," Bushfield says.
Bushfield knows, perhaps better than anyone, the consequences of living on the edge. But, he says, if he isn't scaring himself, he doesn't feel like he's living. And living this way, it's how Sarah would want him to be.
"I'd like to think she'd be proud of me. There's no book been written on how to do this. There's no easy way. I just do what I can," he says. "I'm here to break boundaries. That's what Sarah was here to do, too, and she lived her purpose. People were so inspired to be around her. She was doing what she was put here to do. I just hope I can do the same."