‘The brave do not live forever but the cautious do not live at all’.
This is a gripping, adrenaline packed film that should be obligatory viewing for all skiers and snowboarders. It charts the exhilarating progress towards the US Winter Olympics of young snowboarding champion, Kevin Pearce until he falls and suffers a traumatic brain injury. The film then follows his even tougher journey to get back on the slopes and how he slowly comes to recognise that he faces a simple choice between accepting his new body and its limitations or precipitating his own mortality.
Using home video, video diaries and interviews with his family, friends and supporters, this documentary-style film is made up of many parts. Firstly it’s an amazing tribute to the skills, dedication and sheer talent of a bunch of twenty-something snowboarders as they head towards their goal of making the US Winter Olympics team. It underlines the hard work that goes into the heart-stopping tricks they teach themselves. But it also shows the sheer fun, camaraderie, and adrenalin rush it gives them. Secondly it is the story of Kevin Pearce and the unwavering support of his family as he becomes more and more successful and obsessive about winning many of the top snowboarding championships using a countdown in days to the start of the US Winter Olympics. Kevin admits; “It’s an addiction. I need the satisfaction that I’ve achieved some new level.”
The point is made that freestyle snowboarding and skiing has become a major spectator sports. To keep the public and sponsors happy, participants drive themselves to do more and more risky ‘tricks,’ and safety is seriously compromised. A commentator says; “if you are falling from 20-40 foot that’s 30-40 mph when you land – no helmet can protect you from that kind of impact.”
Then 41 days before the Olympics, tragedy strikes. Using actual film footage of Kevin practising, we see him land on his head from 22 foot at about 40 mph on a half pipe. This shot of film is repeated many times as we gradually learn that he suffered a severe ‘traumatic brain injury’ and spent 28 days in a coma. The film changes gear again and interspersed with the story of how Kevin battles back to life, we see the demands it makes on his family and their unstinting love. We also see how another young man with the same injury and similarly supportive family doesn’t make it. However, all Kevin wants to know is when he can start snowboarding again.
A catalogue of wince making accidents is shown alongside Kevin’s friends and colleagues listing the many bone breakages and serious incidents they have had and still come back to the slopes. The final story outlined is of the beautiful young freestyle skier, Sarah Byrne. Newly married and top of her field, she had a similar accident on the same half-pipe as Kevin. She never came out of her coma.
The last segment is about knowing when it’s time to stop. This film isn’t ‘preachy’ – it acknowledges the fantastic highs of this sport but makes it clear that if you’ve had an accident there may be no going back. However, after two years of painfully slow recovery and despite all medical advice Kevin goes snowboarding again and even tries to compete. Only then does he start to accept that his body and its ability has changed. His final wake-up call comes seeing first-hand the damage Trevor Walker has caused to himself and his family. He suffered two traumatic brain injuries snowboarding but keeps going back. His brain no longer functions correctly, he cannot tell where his elbow is, had run over his brother and could not control his anger – taking it out on his fearful mother.
The last part of the film shows Kevin having finally accepted a new focus for his life. He’s become an ambassador and fundraiser for Traumatic Brain Injuries. He made the film we are watching. “I’ve finally come to terms with the fact I’m not going to snowboard anymore and have accepted my life has changed. The biggest part is understanding that things really are different but that’s OK and it’s still good.”
The Crash Reel is on Sky Atlantic HD Sat 30 Nov, 11:15pm