Park Record columnist
A soft-spoken Kevin Pearce reached for the microphone at an early morning press conference, introducing himself to the audience. Few of the 400 journalists there knew much about Kevin. But they were there to follow the buzz that Pearce was the one guy who might be able to take down Shaun White. He was David; Shaun was Goliath.
The days at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago's Loop for the U.S. Olympic Committee's pre-Vancouver media summit had been a whirlwind for the 21-year-old snowboarder from Vermont. It was hours on end doing interviews and posing for photographs doing silly things like hanging from fake icicles. Those who met him were struck immediately by his humility and engaging smile. He was quiet and unassuming, yet he stood out amidst the giants of Olympic champions alongside him.
It was September 2009. Those two days would encompass Kevin's entire Olympic experience. Three-and-a-half months later, he would be fighting for his life at University Hospital in Salt Lake City.
Last week, Kevin returned to Utah for the Sundance world premiere of Lucy Walker's "The Crash Reel," a story of tragedy, family and frends (that's friends without the "i").
In the few years leading up to Vancouver, Kevin Pearce had let his riding speak for him. Snowboarding had risen to prominence in action sports, aided by the USA sweep at the Utah Olympics in 2002 and White's rise to stardom as a child prodigy who claimed the big Olympic prize in 2006 in Torino.
The rivalry between Pearce and White spanned the globe in those years between Torino and Vancouver. In the snowboarding world, Pearce was the real deal. He was the one rider who consistently challenged Shaun. The X Games called him a snowboarder's snowboarder.
Together with his group of frends, they barnstormed the world as ambassadors of their sport. And together they worked their skills to become some of the best athletes in one of the most on-the-edge of all action sports. They knew the risks. They took steps to mitigate them through training. They loved what they did and were proud of how they were evolving their sport.
Then came Pearce's devastating crash while training in Park City on New Year's Eve Day 2009. While visiting Park City again last weekend, the memories were still there. But the smiles on the faces of Kevin and his frends, and the sincerity of their embraces, told the real story.
"The Crash Reel" speaks volumes about the sport and even more so about the people. Those who didn't know Kevin learned about the family bonds that formed his character. And they learned about the intensity of friendship between a group of world-class athletes who ate, slept and rode together as brothers all motivated to progress their sport.
Action sports carry risk. "The Crash Reel" doesn't sugarcoat that. At Friday's world premiere in Salt Lake City, Kevin was quick to respond to a question about what can be done. "I need to be clear what we do is different. We know the risks we are taking. We accept that." His frends backed him up.
Sports today especially those with acrobatics and high speeds carry risks. Coaching, education, venue development and equipment are all components in helping athletes achieve their dreams as safely as possible. Yet risks will always remain be it football, motor sports or action sports.
Despite the tragic circumstances that created the storyline for "The Crash Reel," there was a lot of happiness on stage for the Salt Lake City premiere. In bow tie and sneakers, Kevin captured the hearts of a new audience for his sport, as did his brother David, whose Down's syndrome was no hurdle to his grabbing the microphone to speak his mind. So did mother Pia, who suffered the heartbreak only a mother could feel.
Above it all, they showed the power of family and the power of frends united in sport.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he's not traveling the world with the team.