15 people who died doing what they loved most

In a tribute to Sarah Burke, Matador looks at 15 individuals who died doing what they loved most.

“IT’S WHAT OUR LIVES ARE; it’s being on the hill,” said Sarah Burke on the Ski Channel’s feature film Winter. Sitting beside her husband Rory Bushfield, she continued, “It’s amazing. It’s where we met, where we play, where we live,” as Rory finished, “and hopefully where we die.”

Almost by default, once someone — an athlete, adventurer, or even just an individual committed to a certain field like journalism — reaches a certain level, the separation between their work and their life disappears.

While high profile athletes I’ve interviewed rarely, if ever, seem to think in terms of “giving their lives” to a sport (that seems more a notion constructed by those of us around them), there is — as hinted to in Sarah and Rory’s words above — a sense that by virtue of who they are, they simply have no choice but to continue their progressions wherever (and however dangerously) they lead. Being “on the hill” is the only place they’re truly themselves.

Last month Sarah Burke, the most storied female freestyle skier in history, died from injuries sustained in a superpipe training run. In paying tribute to her and the community that supported and loved her, here is a short roundup of those many of us at Matador look up to for having followed their dream as far as they could take it. Respect.

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  • http://twitter.com/onceatraveler Turner Wright

    A pretty good roundup. What about Chris McCandless?

    • http://miller-david.com david miller

      thx turner.

      glad you brought up chris mccandless. in all honesty i don’t know if he died doing what he loved. perhaps what alexander supertramp loved. 

      • Bill

         What about Dale Earnhardt (2001) and Mark Donohue (1975)?

  • http://twitter.com/PhotoJBartlett Jeff Bartlett

    The age old question of is the risk worth the reward. So many greats have died.
    I’d extend the list beyond 15 to include skiers Doug Coombs, CR Johnson, and Jamie Pierre.

  • Alexandru Cinca

    Awesome human beings.

  • Ricky

    Craig Kelly. 

  • Jamesdalelio42

    what no Marie Curie

  • Bill Smirnow

    First person that comes to mind is Weytour Wouylandt who crashed face first into either the opposite wall or the road and was killed instantly in the third stage of last year’s Giro D’ Italia. Apparantly his handlebars, cycling shoe or pedal clipped the wall sending him shooting across the road decending a mountain.  Died [consciousness continues after one permenantly leaves the body] doing what he loved. I’ll also throw in Isaac Galvez[November 2006], Alexi Kivilov [Paris-Nice on March 11 or 12, 2003]. There are several others going back to at least the 1930s, all cyclists doing what they really loved doing.

  • kimg

    Great tribute David! 

  • Sonya Lou

    Really incredible people.
    What about journalists / photographers killed on the job? I suspect it wasn’t just a “job” for most of them.

    • http://miller-david.com david miller

      considered many journalists for this list actually. who would be some that you’d include?

  • http://www.harrypound.com/seminars Public Seminars

    Your list is like a breath of fresh air David! It’s just so refreshing to see new faces (not just the popular ones) on tribute blog post like this! 

    I’m pretty sure most people from academia are worth mentioning too!

  • abackpacker

    Another worthy mention: http://jonnycoppfoundation.org/about-jonny/

    • http://miller-david.com david miller

      thank you.

  • http://www.ceciliahaynes.com/ Unsettled TCK

    Out of respect to one of my best friends (his daughter), I wanted to mention Takashi Ozaki:  http://blog.mountainworldproductions.com/2011/05/climbing-legend-takashi-ozaki-dies-on-everest.html

    • http://miller-david.com david miller

      thank you.

  • Robert_vahle

       Loved your article, kudos, to your research and hard work.  I am sure you know you left out a few, like Gaylen Rowell.  But I was in hope of seeing a few humanitarians.

    • Robert_vahle

      Opps, sorry, Title is “Young People.  most humanitarians are not young.  I guess depending on your perspective.

  • Blackmtns

    What a very nice tribute. As they say “There are old adventurers and bold adventurers, but no old and bold adventurers”. I do agree with others that it reads as an X-games list of failures instead of a look at humantiarians. Outside of our community most of these 15 people were quite inconsequential and unknown and died just out trying to have fun, getting their “Hold my beer and watch dis” moment on the mountain (I’m guilty for doing that). There are so many people who would have been more impressive than someone who missed a line on a half-pipe or decided to sleep in an active train tunnel, but it is good that these people like us are remembered as well, because all of us have inherent value, whether we’re young folks pushing it in the mountains or someone whose research left a lasting positive impact on the world.

  • Journeys & Travels

    My condolences go to the families of those brave souls. I have written my thoughts as a backpacker (regarding death on the road) which can be found in my blog http://www.journeysandtravels.com. I am heartened to see that they are all smiles and fulfilled in this compiled photos. 

  • http://www.bed-adjustable.co.uk/waterbeds/ Waterbeds

    i wish one day if i day im doing what i love the most “playing online games” but how i will died with online games? xD

  • http://www.sbobet.com/ Asian Handicap Betting

    great tribute…

  • Monica Prelle

    NICE tribute. I would add snowboarder Jeff Anderson and climber John Bachar to the list.

  • Matt

    Chris Muller’s death hit pretty hard in our little corner of the free flight world :(