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Tragedy & Generosity: Reflections on Kevin Pearce’s Story

Posted by: Stuart Comstock-Gay on 7/25/2013
Most Vermonters have some familiarity with Kevin Pearce’s story. In December 2009 he was one of the top competitive snowboarders in the world, on the cusp of expected Olympic greatness, when he struck his head on the way down a half-pipe during a training run and suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The accident almost ended his life and did end his competitive career.

If that was all we knew about Kevin, it would be a tragedy. Instead, because of Kevin’s courage, the openness of Kevin and his family, and the excellent work of filmmaker Lucy Walker, we have in The Crash Reel the story not only of his injury but of his recovery, and of the devastating impact of TBI on Kevin and so many others. This is not just a tragedy—it’s a story of hope.

The movie shows Kevin’s life before the crash, shows the crash, and shows him in the hospital. It shows Kevin and his family struggling with the effects of the TBI. It shows others who suffer from the same kinds of injuries. Most importantly, it shows Kevin and his family transforming the tragedy into an opportunity to make a positive difference by educating people about TBIs and raising money to help those who have had one.  The Crash Reel premiered on HBO on July 15, and is showing frequently.  If you’ve got HBO, I strongly urge you to watch it. It’s tragic, yes—it’s also uplifting and inspiring.

Regarding Traumatic Brain injuries, there’s much to say. There are an estimated 1.7 million severe TBIs each year in the U.S.  Between 250,000 and 400,000 veterans are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with a TBI.  Thirty-five percent of all U.S. prisoners have had a TBI.

And yet, it’s silent and invisible. Kevin—through his willingness to be public and his desire to help others—has already begun to play an important role in helping Americans understand TBI.

We at the Community Foundation are particularly connected to this because the new Kevin Pearce Fund at the Community Foundation will support organizations that help individuals and families affected by TBI, downs syndrome and other challenges. Folks who want to support that fund can give directly through our website. Or you can buy a specially designed glass bowl at Simon Pearce.  (Simon is Kevin’s dad.)

One more point. Another reason to watch this movie is to marvel at the Pearce family. Filmmaker Lucy Walker says this:

“We’ve all seen dysfunctional families on screen, but have you ever watched a family so remarkable that it doubles as a parenting class? The Pearce family gives us a script for a family intervention, teaching us to stick to telling people how we feel, and how much we love them, instead of giving them advice about what they should or shouldn’t do.”

I couldn’t endorse that statement more.  

Part of the beauty of our work at the Foundation is that you never know who is going to teach you something new…deepen your knowledge about something important…make you re-evaluate assumptions…and make you step back in wonderment. About generosity. About strength. About so many things. You never know. The Kevin Pearce story, Kevin Pearce’s family, the movie The Crash Reel—they have done that for me.

P.S. It’s worth it, if you’re interested, to read the rest of Lucy Walker’s reflections on making The Crash Reel—Eight Things I Learned from Making The Crash Reel.
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