If American snowboarder Kevin Pearce had made it to the 2010 Olympic Games it’s likely he would have been at the top of the podium — instead he was in coma.
Mere weeks before Pearce was to join Team USA in Vancouver, he was on a half pipe practicing his cab double cork (three-and-a-half rotations with two-and-a-half inverted spins) when he missed the landing and bounced down the side of the wall like a rag doll.
The moment was caught on film by a passerby and is now part of the Oscar-shortlisted documentary The Crash Reel, which follows Pearce as he’s recovering from the traumatic brain injury with doctors and family members worried he’ll refuse to give up the sport he loves.
It’s Pearce’s desire to get back on his snowboard that keeps him motivated through rehab. But eventually he has to admit, in part because of trouble with his vision, that he’ll never be able to snowboard competitively again. He can still ride recreationally, though.
For the past week Pearce has been enjoying the Kootenay powder up at Baldface Lodge. This Thursday, December 12 he’ll be in Nelson talking to kids at Wildflower School and possibly L.V. Rogers secondary school about the importance of wearing helmets on the slopes.
The Crash Reel is playing at the Civic Theatre that night (a day before it opens in theatres across North America) and he’ll be in the audience and available to answer questions afterwards.
“There’s a lot of stuff in the film that’s not just about snowboarding and what happened to me,” Pearce told the Star over Skype from Baldface Lodge. “It’s a lot about brain injuries in general, which I think is really an important thing to talk about.”
The film highlights the rivalry between Pearce and fellow American snowboarder Shaun White, the pressure they were both under to push the limits of the sport and the inevitability of injury.
“I got extremely unlucky,” the 26-year-old said of his crash. “It was such a small, little error. If I’d gone a little bit bigger and had a little bit of extra time to come around, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke is seen in the film talking about Pearce before her death on the very same halfpipe that he fell on. It makes you wonder if there should be restrictions placed on the sport to make it safer for athletes.
Pearce told the Star that the only think he’d change about snowboarding would be to make helmets mandatory on all resorts (he was wearing one when he fell, and doctors say it saved his life). He thinks everything else should be left up to the individual athletes.
“They need to decide for themselves what they can do and what’s too unsafe,” he said. “There’re so many rules in life. The reason I liked snowboarding was because nobody was telling me what I could and couldn’t do.”
Pearce is fortunate he comes from a tight-knit family that stuck by his side through everything. He said that watching the film reminds him how lucky he was to have them there and the incredible amount of time they spent with him.
“They didn’t allow me to snowboard for two years, they got me to the right doctors and all the right help,” he said. “It’s because of them I’ve had this recovery. I worked hard too, but I couldn’t have done it without them.”
The Crash Reel, directed by Lucy Walker, is screening at the Nelson Civic Theatre on Thursday, December 12 at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets can be purchased for $11 at civictheatre.ca.