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Plenty of Work for Kevin Pearce

Kevin Pearce may not be competing in snowboarding events any longer, but that hasn’t stopped the former Olympic hopeful from making an impact in his sport.

Still recovering from a traumatic brain injury suffered while training in Utah three years ago, the Norwich native has become an ambassador for snowboarding safety during his recovery process.

Pearce’s message and endearing personality have been featured on both the big screen and national television lately. A film produced by HBO depicting his story and recovery, The Crash Reel, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival last month and will air on TV this summer and fall.

Just last week, Pearce provided on-air commentary for ESPN during snowboarding events at the Winter X-Games, the largest extreme sports competition in the U.S.

Pearce has additional broadcast work lined up for this winter in Europe, beginning this weekend in Innsbruck, Austria, during Air & Style, an international competition he championed twice as an athlete.

The Valley News recently corresponded with Pearce via email to discuss the new film, his recovery and his message. The following is an edited transcript of that correspondence:

Valley News: I understand the public debut at Sundance was your first time viewing The Crash Reel. What do you think of the film?

Kevin Pearce: I think it’s fantastic! Everybody had such a great reaction and I thought that it was a great.

It was pretty heavy watching all the parts that I can’t remember because of being in a coma, which was the first six weeks after the accident and up until I got into rehab. It was powerful and very moving to watch it all on a big screen.

VN: What do your family, friends and colleagues in the snowboard community think of the film?

KP: It was received very well, which was so special to me. My biggest worry was what my friends and family would think about it. Everybody seemed really happy with it, which was great.

VN: What are some of the central messages or themes in the film?

KP: I think the biggest message is raising awareness about traumatic brain injuries and the process of rehabilitation, as well as the importance of wearing a helmet. Also, the amazing power of family and friends during recovery and the important role of my brother, David, who has Down syndrome.

VN: It’s a 108-minute film and a much longer and more involved process than, say, putting together a video for YouTube. Did it take a lot of time and effort from you and your family to accommodate the demands of the film process?

KP: It took a huge amount of time and effort from myself and my family, but luckily (my family was) willing to help and did a great job. It was a much longer process than I ever imagined, but with the support of my family it worked out really well.

VN: The film was directed by Lucy Walker, an experienced filmmaker who’s 2010 documentary, Waste Land, was nominated for an Oscar. What was it like working with Walker?

KP: Lucy is amazing and, because she is so good at what she does, that made the whole process much easier. She was relentless in her efforts to make it the best documentary possible.

VN: As an athlete you were a two-time medalist in the half-pipe at the X-Games. For the last two years, you’ve returned as a snowboard analyst for ESPN. Tell me about that experience.

KP: Last year was my first opportunity doing analysis for ESPN at Winter X Games. This year I had a much bigger role and a whole new gig: doing live, on-air commentary for all snowboarding events. It was amazing to be back in the scene and be able to hang out with all my friends.

VN: No big surprise that Shaun White captured his sixth straight gold medal in the super pipe. Were there any results that surprised you at this year’s X-Games? Who are some of the best up-and-coming snowboarders out there in your mind?

KP: (Japanese teenager) Ayumu Hirano is the next biggest thing in snowboarding, especially in halfpipe. He is going to give Shaun a run for his money. (Hirano is) only 14 years old, so it’s real exciting to see someone so young that is so good.

Mark McMorris has definitely raised the bar in slopestyle as we just saw at Winter X Games (McMorris placed second in slopestyle to fellow Canadian Sebastien Toutant).

VN: Last winter, you rode a snowboard again for the first time since the accident. You said at the time that a big challenge for you was to essentially “relearn” snowboarding. Have your skills been improving?

KP: This year has been so much better than last year. I have gotten to ride in powder and my snowboarding is improvement is coming at a much faster rate. It is so fun to be out in the backcountry and get to ride these huge mountains with the crazy amount of snow. My best trip this season — in fact, I would call it the best snowboarding trip of my life — was to Baldface (in British Columbia, Canada) last month.

VN: You and Lucy Walker collaborated to launch the “#loveyourbrain” campaign on Twitter. What is that and how does it relate to your experience?

KP: It’s a grassroots, social media campaign designed to expand on the film to promote awareness and create social impact around the brain. Loving your brain is one of the most important things you can do. Elements of the #loveyourbrain campaign are: #beSmart, #beSafe, #beSupported and #beStrong.

VN: Where can fans find more information about #loveyourbrain? Is it something that is exclusively on Twitter or are there additional avenues for it?

KP: We have big plans to make more stuff happen for this, but right now Facebook and Twitter are where everything is.

VN: As an advocate for the prevention of traumatic brain injuries, one of your goals is to see more young snowboarders wearing helmets. Do you feel like more of them are putting them on?

KP: A lot of kids are wearing them but there’s still more work to be done. I haven’t gotten too much of a chance to start working on this but it’s definitely something that’s very important to me and I’ll be doing more in the future.

VN: You mentioned last year that you still had “a lot of work to do” in continuing to adjust to the after math of the accident cognitively and spiritually. Overall, how are you these days?

KP: I’m still working on figuring out my new life and all the changes I have to deal with on a daily basis. I feel like I’ve been doing really well, my life is amazing and I am both happy and very grateful! It’s also great to know that even after three years, you can continue to recover more and more.

VN: I’m sure you know about the recent death of Caleb Moore, a snowmobiler who crashed while competing in the freestyle event at the X Games. News reports cite complications from a brain injury suffered in the crash for being a main cause of death. What’s your reaction as a fellow extreme sports athlete who’s suffered a traumatic brain injury?

KP: I was personally very saddened to hear about the passing of Caleb Moore and my deepest sympathies go out to his friends and family during this difficult time. It is a great loss to the community and to the sport.

VN: What’s your schedule looking like for the rest of the winter? Can fans in the Upper Valley expect to find you here in the coming months?

KP: My winter is going to include helping host snowboarding events and continuing to ride a lot (without competing).

I am going to be pretty busy for the rest of the winter traveling around the world, but I hope to make it back to the Upper Valley sometime in April. I also hope to arrange a screening of The Crash Reel in the Upper Valley, so stay tuned.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.