I never followed snowboarding, so I’d never heard of Kevin Pearce before watching The Crash Reel. I also didn’t know that the sport had progressed from the six-foot-tall halfpipes of the 1990s to towering 22-foot superpipes.
Coming into the last Winter Olympics, the 2010 games in Vancouver, Pearce was hailed as the next Shaun White, until he took a bad, bad fall in training, and the resulting traumatic brain injury put him in a coma for a week and a half — and left him different:
“It was pretty wild, seeing that stuff,” Pearce says of the moments with his family. “It was heavy to see that, like ‘Damn, that went down. I was not aware that went down.’ That’s no BS, I really didn’t know that stuff was going on. My brain was thinking one way, and all the people that were helping me recover had a different mindset and were on a different page. Now that I see it, I understand what they went through, what I put them through.”
It was eventually his brother, David, who has Down syndrome and has his own struggles accepting himself for who he is, was able to get through to Kevin by speaking the blatant truth. In his defense of why he doesn’t want his brother to start snowboarding professionally again, David simply told Kevin, “I don’t want you to die.”
Kevin says the accident actually brought him even closer to his brother. “Growing up with a brother with Down syndrome taught me so much about special needs and life in general and how you really need to open your eyes and be aware of all situations,” he says. “My accident had a huge impact on David. It really affected him. And it brought us so much closer. Before, I was living a life where I was winning competitions and living that life, and now, with the life I’m living, we understand each other so much better now. Things are harder. Life is slower. And David understands that.”
Taking the advice from David and his family, and taking note of his own physical limitations, Kevin eventually realized that the ending to his story was not going to be an Olympic gold medal. It wasn’t going to be professional snowboarding, period.
“The real moment I remember really realizing it is when I got back into a competition in Mt. Baker, Washington. It was the first time that I really tried to go fast and race down the mountain after my accident. It allowed me to understand how impaired my snowboarding was. You know, sitting in this chair right now, I feel totally fine. My brain doesn’t tell me that I’m still injured. Yeah, there are issues with my vision and issues with my memory, but those things aren’t telling me that I can’t snowboard. Doctors tell me, parents tell me, but I didn’t believe that sh–. I thought I could do it.”
The film reinforces Steve Sailer’s point that Winter Olympians are the successful products of nice families who engaged in a lot of (not inexpensive) family fun together.
Interestingly, Pearce’s father is a very successful businessman — a very successful, dyslexic businessman, with an artisanal glassblowing business.