Crash Reel, a film chronicling snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s road to recovery from a traumatic brain injury debuts today at Sundance Film Festival today in Park City, Utah.
Directed by Two-time Academy Award nominee Lucy Walker (Waste Land, Countdown to Zero, Devil’s Playground), the film is an expose on Pearce’s life changing event with a focus on raising awareness of TBI prevention and recovery.
“This is such a huge issue going on in the world, with football and the war veterans coming home and, of course, action sports,” Pearce told USA Today Sports. “Just to be able to teach people more about it and have people understand more about what’s going on is really important.”
On December 31, 2009, Pearce, a 2010 Winter Olympic hopeful, hit his head in a crash while practicing in the superpipe at Park City. He spent two months in a coma and another 20 months in rehab before he was able to attempt snowboarding again.
“I feel like my recovery can show people that it is possible to return from a brain injury and heal your brain. It’s not easy. It’s one of the hardest things I could ever imagine doing, but if you can stick to it and be disciplined, like I did with snowboarding, it is possible.”
We caught up with Pearce this week after he landed in Park City to get more on his thoughts about Crash Reel.
How does it feel to be back in Park City?
Last year at Sundance was my first and only time coming back to Park City. This is my second time. It’s a weird place to come back to. It brings back some weird feelings, seeing that halfpipe and being back up here.
Is it unsettling or more cathartic?
It’s a little unsettling; it’s weird. How much this mountain has changed my life and kind of what it’s done to me. So it’s a weird felling. I don’t know, it’s interesting, but definitely good to come here and get those feelings and deal with what I have going on.
Obviously debuting your film here must have special significance.
Totally… I’m excited. It’s going to be interesting watching the film when it plays up in Park City. What it’s like. I haven’t seen the film but from the sound of it it’s going to be pretty intense.
How did the project actually come about?
Ever since the accident we’ve wanted to make a film to share the experience I went to this Nike camp and met (director) Lucy Walker. We just started wrapping out and I was able to tell my story and show some photos and let her in on my life. She really dug the story and though it would be interesting. That’s how we found each other and it just worked out for there. So we started filming ever since that. It sounds like all the footage we got turned out pretty cool – a lot of good stuff. Obviously so much of my snowboarding has been film din the past. There’s just a lot of stuff on tape. So combining the old with the new really worked out.
How would you describe the purpose of the film in short?
I think to raise awareness…on such a huge issue going on in the world. Not just in snowboarding or in America. It’s a worldwide issue (traumatic brain injuries) we’re facing that people need to learn about it and come to terms with and accept. It’s going to continue to happen. People are going to get these brain injuries forever and it just to be able to teach people more about it and have people understand more about is really important.
How has your perception about TBI’s changed since your accident?
I don’t know if it’s just because I’m more aware of it, but it seems to be happening more and more, and it’s turning into a bigger issue. More people are having TBIs and it seems that it’s all over the place. It’s really cool for me to be able to raise awareness and teach people about it and I feel like…. I feel like people were hiding from it before but now with football and the war and the veterans coming back and, of course, action sports… .I think people are understanding how real it is and that we have to look at and take into consideration.
Are you more focused on prevention or on recovery?
The biggest one for me is the recovery and coming back from it. Just because I feel like it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. You’re not going to stop people from having brain injuries and it’s always going to be around. There are things you can prevent, but because of what we do and how we all love to do it, it’s going to continue to happen. So it’s really about raising awareness of the recovery and coming back from it all. I fee like my story is a good example. At least I hope so. I feel like my recovery can show people that you can come back and I feel like I’ve come back as good as you can. It is possible to return from a brain injury and heal your brain. It’s not easy. It’s one of the hardest things I could ever imagine doing, but if you can stick to it like and stay disciplined, like I did with snowboarding. you can make a full recovery, which is hard and it is rare, but it’s possible.
What are your the top three takeaways from the injury experience?
1. My family. What they’ve done and how they’ve been there for me.
2. The Frends crew. They are coming out here for the movie, just the whole crew. And AMP, who has helped bring us together and make it possible for us to all be on that same page. To have those guys there for me. I can’t describe it.
3. And then the knowledge. What I’ve learned. From going to the rehab to talking to the doctors to what i’ve learned from the people and friends around me. Like I’m 25, and, now, to not go out there and drink and go to the bars and to understand that that’s not part of my life anymore. That that has changed and I have to live with that.
Can you elaborate on that last part…how your social life has changed?
That’s something that I really want to teach kids. It’s so hard. I used to live that life. I used to go out and party after these contests. I would rip around with all my friends. That was how I lived and that’s how I lived my life and you know and coming to accept the change is so important. Like with the Frends crew… we’re all about 24 or 25. Everyone knows at this age we like to go out to the bars and party and enjoy their life. But you wouldn’t believe, so many people I’ve heard from who have had these injuries, they go out with their friends, and then they still go out and party and smoke cigarettes and they can’t understand that they need to change their lifestyle. That’s why I thank my friends.The fact that I’ve had them and they’ve been there for me and they’ve helped me NOT do those things and NOT punish my brain. Whether it’s that or just in my everyday life to help me out, it’s just been amazing.
So life after the party…has there been any upside?
What I’ve realized now is that there’s so much more to life. It was that one track mind. Snowboarding was my life and that’s all it was. There’s been so much more that I’ve been able to explore and figure out and learn how to do. I don’t want to say that’s what I wanted to do, but it’s been kinda cool that I’ve been able to take this other path and figure it all out.
For those around you as well, it’s obviously been a transition?
Yes. These injuries effect so many more people than just yourself. It affected the whole snowboarding community, but then my friends and my family. There’s so much more than just you out there. It’s crazy to see what you can do and how much it can affect other people. It’s wild.
So this all comes to fruition this weekend at Sundance and then next week at Winter X?
Yes, first Sundance and then I’m going to Winter X. I’m going to announce there with Keir Dillon, which should be fun, for all the snowboarding events. It’s going to be intense. I’ve done it for Grand Prix, but X Games is obviously a big stage. It works so well for me. I know the sport so well and I love the sport so much. And to be there and hang with my buddies and talk about what you love to do is not a bad gig, so it’s going to be fun to sit down and talk to all these people and get some insight from it all.
Watch Kevin talk to BNQT at Winter X Games 2012
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