Even people who have never stepped on a snowboard know the name Shaun White, the closest that action sports have to a Tiger Woods or a Michael Jordan, athletes who transcend a sport’s core fandom. In 2007, another boarder began to challenge White’s dominance in the half-pipe: Kevin Pearce. But in 2009, while training for the Vancouver Olympics, Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him in critical care for a month, and in intensive physical and mental rehabilitation for six.
Academy Award-nominated documentarian Lucy Walker (Waste Land, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom) creates a film around Pearce that may just be the definitive statement on the expanding problem of TBI in sports. Walker starts with the accident but immediately rewinds to show Kevin’s snowboarding history in a way that makes the viewer understand just how difficult it will be for him to stay away from his life’s one true love once he’s achieved any degree of recovery.
Indeed, he’s already talking about his return to the mountain when he’s still barely able to walk straight, much to the horror of his family and his doctors.
Walker has her own mountain of archival footage at her disposal to tell this story, plus intimate family access to show the more difficult periods of Kevin’s recovery and his frightening denial about his new limitations. The result is a sensitively rendered look at a horrifying injury, and the honest inspiration to be found in Pearce’s eventual acceptance of his new life.