Pro-snowboarder Kevin Pearce's tragic brain injury receives the documentary treatment in The Crash Reel
Four years ago pro-snowboarder Kevin Pearce was at the pinnacle of his career. He was hot favourite for gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the only man who stood a chance of stealing Shaun White's crown. But on New Year’s Eve 2009, he slammed the right side of his head into the icy lip of a halfpipe while practising a double cork, and his life changed forever. Since then he has been struggling with serious brain damage. Oscar-winner Lucy Walker has turned Kevin's story into a remarkable documentary: The Crash Reel, out this Friday.
To mark the release of The Crash Reel, Huck peered back into the archives and uncovered this interview with Kevin from 2011. Soak up his hard-won lessons on life, followed by our review of Lucy Walker’s awesome documentary.
Life has thrown major obstacles at Kevin Pearce. In 2011, he shared some truths with Huck:
Coping With Injury
“What I’ve learned is that those things are so invisible; whether it’s my memory or my balance, they’re so small and so hard to see, but for me they’re so big and so hard – so hard because of how they’ve taken such a toll on me. It’s like this brain injury never ends. It’s never going to go away; I’m always going to be brain injured. I’ve come to accept that, but it’s hard to know I will always be healing for the rest of my life, and a weird thought that things will always be different now.”
“I know that I’m doing well and that I’m very lucky. I’ve been able to take all the positives and not look at the negatives. It’s not going to help me in any way to be sad and depressed. I’ve totally come round to the fact that it is what it is. What has happened, happened. I’m lucky that I have been able to stay positive. I have been able to take all the good things that I have been so lucky to have, whether it’s being able to see right now, or being able to walk or talk. It could be so much worse.”
The Kindness of Strangers
“The support I got is hard to explain. I didn’t realise that so many people would be there. It was pretty special. The support is what has touched me and helped me the most. Cards came every single day in the hospital. What it has done for me is amazing; there’s so much love.”
Confronting Your Own Mortality
“If I hit my head again, it’s game over. Now, pretty much what it comes down to is that I have to figure out a new life.”
“I feel like halfpipe riding is getting close to the limit, but I would never begin to say that the direction it’s going is not good, just because of how excited I am about all these new tricks. It’s so hard for me to imagine us getting past where we are at now, but if it does, it means the risk level will just be so high and it will be like what happened to me… That is not what I want to see.”
Always Looking Fly
“I’m getting fitted for a Gucci tux for an award. I don’t even know what a Gucci tuxedo is – it’s going to be awesome!”
Original interview by Zoe Oksanen
“I don’t think about falling,” says pro-snowboarder Kevin Pearce, a twenty-two-year-old with the world at his feet. He’s a dedicated athlete training for the Vancouver Winter Olympics; life is a blessed snow-globe of achievement and adoration. Money, international travel, a quasi-comic nemesis in flame-haired contender, Shaun White – you name it, he’s got it.
The charm of Lucy Walker’s creation is she allows the sport that took Pearce so high to take the audience on a ride too. Spine-tingling footage of double corks up seventeen-foot half-pipes, snowboarders spinning in the air like dancers across the sky and purple light glinting off nighttime snow conveys the romance and adrenaline of the sport. It’s an expansive perspective considering the documentary focuses on a fall-induced brain injury that turned Kevin and his family’s life into a painful uphill struggle.
Kevin’s board is swapped for a hospital bed. Radiant health and shaggy blond hair fall away leaving a pale, sunken human shell. An equally profound change happens to the narrative, which swings from superficial YouTube fodder to an all-seeing examination of infirmity, a different country to the one belonging to the well, with more basic ambitions.
Not that Kevin – stuck in his pre-accident mentality, still talking of the Olympics – can see that. Conflict between his deluded goals and his family’s protective ones dominate, with footage of their diplomatic discussions illuminating the universal source of frustration that is the limits of love.
Enveloping this fraught and relatable human drama is a fantastic soundtrack and crash-reel footage galore. Other accidents from within the tight-knit snowboarding community are used by Walker to rewind to the moment of impact and its irreversible consequences. The question of whether the industry or each individual is responsible for these tragedies is dusted lightly across the film’s deep and snowy landscape.
Review by Sophie Monks Kaufman
The Crash Reel is out in UK cinemas Friday 4 October, 2013.
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