But watching this series of victories unfold in the opening minutes of Lucy Walker’s new film The Crash Reel is like watching a high-speed train hurtle toward a cliff: The motion and the scenery exhilarate, but you hold your breath in anticipation of the disaster ahead. That day, Pearce crashed during a training run on a halfpipe in Park City, Utah. The collision between Pearce’s head and a slope of rock-hard ice that New Year’s Eve wiped out not only his Olympic dreams but also his entire future in the sport.
The Crash Reel, which premieres tonight on HBO after garnering rave reviews at Sundance and other film festivals, depicts Pearce’s recovery from what could have been a fatal brain injury. It shows how much that one failed trick would impact Pearce’s family, his friends, and the larger sports community for years to come. And it sounds an alarm for more attention to preventing and treating brain trauma among today’s athletes at all levels. What starts out as a behind-the-scenes look at pro snowboarding artfully becomes a haunting medical drama.
After a 10-day coma in January of 2010—during which the Pearce family sat vigilant and watched the boy in the next room, who had a similar traumatic brain injury (TBI), die—Kevin woke up. What followed was an arduous process of learning to walk again, to talk again, to reclaim basic motor skills—all in the hopes of, in Pearce’s mind anyway, snowboarding again. Even the most optimistic doctors, though, said such an outcome was out of the question.