Kevin Pearce Heartbroken Over Sarah Burke's Death

01/20/2012 at 06:20 PM EST

Skier Sarah Burke's Death: Kevin Pearce Heartbroken
Kevin Pearce and Sarah Burke
rian Kersey/Landov; Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom/Getty
The tragic death of four-time Winter X Games winner and Olympic gold medal skier Sarah Burke on Thursday hit home for pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce.

Pearce, 24, suffered a brain injury during an accident two years ago on the same Park City, Utah, superpipe where Burke was severely injured last week.

Pearce tells PEOPLE he’s "heartbroken" over Burke’s death and says the 29-year-old pro skier "will never be replaced."

"I will always remember Sarah as a remarkably talented and courageous athlete and an extraordinary person who changed the direction of her sport forever," says Pearce, who himself went into a coma when he was injured.



After Burke's accident, her family sought solace from Pearce's mother, Pia, who went through her own ordeal when her son was hurt. "Sarah's parents have reached out to my mom for support," he says. "They know what my mom went through with me."

Pearce says his own recovery was incredibly difficult, but that now he’s "really happy" and – especially in light of Burke's passing – feels lucky to have recovered.

Burke passed away "peacefully surrounded by those she loved," her parents Jan and Gordon, sister Anna and husband Rory Bushfield said in a statement Thursday.

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