Winter X: Pearce takes skills out of pipe and into booth
ASPEN, Colo. – Snowboarder Kevin Pearce couldn’t shake the feeling he was forgetting something.
The closer he drew to the superpipe at the Winter X Games, the more powerful the sensation became.
With a sudden realization, Pearce stopped in his tracks, a pounding in his chest – he’d left behind his snowboard.
Though he didn’t need it, old habits are hard to break.
Showing up at Winter X has been a blessing and a painful reminder of the life he once lived. Just over a year ago, Pearce sustained a traumatic brain injury when he crashed during a training run in a pipe, a spill that nearly killed him.
The 23-year-old has made a remarkable recovery in a short period. But being here, watching his friends compete, has been difficult, especially knowing that his competitive days are all but finished.
Instead of shredding it in the pipe, Pearce has been analyzing the snowboard action from a broadcast booth. He’s offering insightful commentary on the tricks the boarders are performing, maneuvers he once made look so easy.
This could be his new future.
“It’s so hard to sit up here and have that feeling of wanting to be in there and not being able to get in there,” said Pearce, who’s wearing thick black-rimmed glasses to help him avoid double vision. “But I’ve got to be OK with that. The fact I can cruise around and look normal, act normal and talk normal, that’s all good. I feel like there’s more important things in life than competitive snowboarding.”
Like getting his health back.
Steadily, he’s been making progress since his accident on New Year’s Eve 2009. He’s fond of showing a photo that’s on his phone, a shot of him soon after the accident: unconscious in an intensive-care unit and hooked up to tubes and breathing devices.
It’s not for shock value – although it works – but so everyone understands just how far he’s come.
Pearce was working on the most dangerous trick in the sport – the double cork 1260 – in Park City, Utah, when he tumbled, laying crumpled at the bottom of the halfpipe. He was airlifted to the hospital, clinging to life.
He was walking again in less than two months and soon was out of the hospital and back home in Vermont, going through therapy.
And now he’s behind the wheel, quite proud of the fact he just received his license.
For Pearce, this was a big step toward reclaiming his independence.
“I was depending on someone to take me to therapy every single day, to take me out to get food, take me to a movie,” Pearce explained. “I now have this feeling of being able to cruise out on my own.”
His first trip?
The mountains, of course, to check out a Dew Tour stop in Killington, Vt., about an hour’s trek from his house.
“There was a cop on the road, but luckily I was following someone,” Pearce said. “If I wasn’t following him, I don’t like to say it, but I might have been going a little fast. If I would’ve gotten a ticket that first day, it would’ve been brutal.”
In a few weeks, Pearce will be returning to his house in Carlsbad, Calif., the place he bought just before the accident and didn’t remember a thing about.
“I woke up out of my coma and they’re like, ‘Kevin you have a new house.’ I was like, ‘Where is it? What does it look it?”‘ he said.
He visited his new residence a few weeks ago, realizing in an instant why he had picked this spot – the nearby surfing.
Although he’s not cleared to snowboard, he can surf all he wants, provided he wears a helmet and avoids big waves. He recently went on a surfing trip to Costa Rica with his family, which has been by his side through every step of his recovery.
“It would be hard if I couldn’t surf,” said Pearce, who takes frequent naps to keep up his strength and remains on anti-seizure medicine. “It’s hard, though, because every time I dive, the glasses get all wet.”
One day down the road, he plans to glide into the pipe again.
Just leisurely runs, though. Nothing too fancy, nothing too tricky.
Sure, he gets the craving to compete again, especially being here at Winter X with his buddies. But he knows all to well the consequences of another fall.
“It’s not worth it. I love snowboarding, but I don’t love it that much that I would risk something like that,” Pearce said. “I’m all right with just getting to cruise.”
Pearce has enjoyed his burgeoning broadcast career, calling a good, instinctual snowboarding contest.
“It gets my mind off of (competing),” he said. “I have something else to do when all I obviously want is to be up there riding with my friends.”
To this day, he hasn’t seen footage of the accident. Before, his family shielded him from it, not wanting him to see the spill until he was healed.
Given the green light, he still shies away from viewing the scene.
“I went to watch it the other day and I was like, ‘I don’t want to see this,”‘ said Pearce, who’s filming a documentary chronicling his recovery. “I don’t want to see something that has affected my life in this kind of way, that has done this to me. I wasn’t ready for it.”
For a good portion of his life, snowboarding has defined Pearce, given him his identity.
These days, he’s embarking on a new path.
“What’s going to make me now is how I can change lives and how I can help people,” Pearce said. “After what I’ve been through, I couldn’t be in any better shape right now. For how severe my brain injury was and how horrendous everything was, for me to even be sitting here talking is unreal.”