Injured snowboarder Pearce back on the mountain, just not riding

Salt Lake Tribune
By Bill Oram
February 12, 2011

Ogden • Kevin Pearce can’t remember the last time he was in Salt Lake City.

Literally, he can’t remember.

Any memory of that trip was wiped clean after he hit his head on New Year’s Eve, 13 months ago in Park City. But the pictures he keeps on his iPhone tell the story.

First, at the bottom of the halfpipe in Park City, wearing a red and white checkered coat and his helmet: unconscious, face bloodied and his left eye socket bulging. The face of a traumatic brain injury.

Then, a quick sweep of his thumb, and he’s in a hospital bed at the University of Utah. The Olympic snowboard team member’s eyes closed, 30 tubes running to different parts of his limp frame.

“I feel like it’s good to show people that so they understand where I was,” Pearce said, who is back in Utah this week as an observer at the Dew Tour’s Toyota Championships at Snowbasin.

The accident knocked him out of the 2010 Winter Olympics — which he ended up watching from his hospital bed. It also effectively ended his snowboarding career. But this year he’s been going to events — three Dew Tour stops and the X Games — working as an announcer and hoping people realize how serious brain injuries are.

“Nobody knows anything about traumatic brain injuries,” he said, “and they happen all the time.”

Pearce flew into Salt Lake on Thursday and went straight to the University of Utah hospital, where he was taken to see another snowboarder in critical condition from a brain injury.

“It was really good for me to see that,” Pearce said. “To see where I was, because I obviously don’t remember that.”

Pearce spent nearly four months in hospitals, before he moved back in with his parents for the first time in four years. In March, he plans to move to California, to a house he doesn’t remember buying a month before the accident.

Pearce now wears glasses with thick black frames and sees double without them. He had perfect vision before the accident. He finally got his driver’s license back a few weeks ago. He now drives himself to rehab.

But snowboarding, that remains off-limits. Doctors have told Pearce he will be able to ride down a mountain in perhaps another year, he said, but no more halfpipe. No more shots at the Olympics.

Just once since the accident has Pearce even been back on a snowboard. He strapped it on at the request of his eye doctor. It was almost like there hadn’t even been a break.

“Just like standing in it, and doing the motions,” he said. “You go like this and you’ll do a McTwist. You do this, and it would be a front-side 720.”

It’s the sort of thing he’ll always remember.


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