Kevin Pearce gets back on his board
December 16, 2011
Kevin Pearce considers himself a lucky guy — he’s been able to learn everything he can in life, twice.
The 24-year-old snowboard sensation who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Park City on Dec. 31, 2009, Pearce said he wakes every day with a new appreciation for what he has in front of him. So when he was able to strap into snowboard bindings for the first time in nearly two years Tuesday morning in Breckenridge, Colo., he simply continued to look at the glass as half full.
"Tuesday was the most exciting day of my life," Pearce told The Park Record Thursday morning from Breckenridge. "Putting my feet in those bindings after dreaming about it in the hospital for so long, it was pretty incredible."
Pearce was joined by a mass of supporters including his brother Adam and fellow snowboarders Danny Davis, Scotty Lago, Luke Mitrani, Mason Aguirre, Danny Kass and even snowboard mogul Jake Burton. The celebration of his return to the slopes took his breath away, Pearce said.
"It was a beautiful, sunny day. It was special," he said. "There were a couple inches of fresh powder and we were all having the best time. There was just an insane amount of support."
Pearce said once he became positioned to start his first ride, all the hours and days of lying in a hospital bed, of learning to experience life all over again, came flooding back. As did his ability to ride.
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"I was able to get up there and take off," he said. "It was so natural for me. After being off the board of two years it’s so second nature to me. It’s just I know how to do it."
He had to learn how to do everything else, however, after his head thumped off the deck of a halfpipe at Park City Mountain Resort that New Year’s Eve.
At that point, Pearce was a virtual lock for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games as an up-and-coming halfpipe athlete who was pushing the boundaries of the sport. During that training session, Pearce was practicing the double-cork, a double backflip that includes rotations, and he made a mistake. That day will forever be an empty memory, he said.
"That’s such a trip about this injury," he said, "I don’t remember anything about that day, that trick, that trip, or even that next month."
Asked if anger ever boils over, knowing that his professional career is prematurely in the books, Pearce said that’s a dark road he hasn’t given much thought to traveling down.
"This is a very dangerous sport," he explained. "That’s kind of what you get in signing up for and becoming a professional snowboarder. It’s part of the game, and you’ve got to understand that, and it’s something that’s out there. I could be dead right now.
"I’ve never really thought about that, ‘Why me?’ Just because I’ve looked at all the other things, like ‘what have I done in life to be able to get all this love and support from everyone?’ I think that’s the reason that I’ve been doing so well because I’ve been staying really positive the whole time.
"Everybody knows how bad I want it and what a fierce competitor I was and still am. It’s hard; it’s hard sitting down here. But, no, I never go to that place."
If anything, Kevin Pearce is thankful to have the opportunity to walk freely again, to speak in complete sentences, and now get back to the snow-capped mountains he’s called home for the last 20 years.
"I got a whole new start at a life," he said. "It’s not like I restarted, it’s just new. Everything’s amazing now. I do feel lucky. After the kids I’ve seen (in rehab), it just makes me feel really lucky."
Now that he’s passed his latest life test, Pearce said he’s looking forward to what comes next, whatever that may be. He will be in Breckenridge riding as much as he can until Dec. 22, when he’ll go home to Vermont for the holidays.
Following that, he is planning on a snowboarding pilgrimage of sorts he plans to go on an "endless powder trip" this winter.
"I’m lucky that I’m here," he said. "I’m enjoying what I can and I’ll take life as it comes."