December 19, 2013
In 2009, snowboarder Kevin Pearce was riding high, soaring skyward, twisting his body into breathtaking acrobatics. He was 22, one of the world’s top halfpipe riders, and a favorite to make the U.S. Olympic team for the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Then a devastating training accident, and a traumatic brain injury, brought those hopes to an end that New Year’s Eve. Pearce’s struggle to recover from that head injury, with the help of his family, is captured in filmmaker Lucy Walker’s documentary The Crash Reel, which has made the Oscar shortlist for this year. Walker spoke with NPR’s Melissa Block about following Pearce through his journey back to something like normal.
On the accident that caused Pearce’s brain injury
Kevin was attempting a trick called a cab double cork. And he just slightly missed the landing and plunged headfirst — with all the force of having rotated three times in the air at crazy angles — and slammed his forehead into the hard halfpipe. And he was in a coma, and was very lucky to survive.
On Pearce’s health when they first met
I met Kevin the summer after the accident, in 2010, and he was in terrible shape from his severe traumatic brain injury. His eyes were looking different directions. He couldn’t remember much, so he kept reintroducing himself to me and saying, “Hey I’m Kevin.” He couldn’t read. He kept sleeping. He was very visibly brain-injured. … Kevin came out of his coma not knowing his name, not being able to stand up or eat. And at this point, this was still fairly early in that recovery. This was his first excursion from the hospital when I met him.