The fall and rise of Kevin Pearce

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Having watched the documentary The Crash Reel by Lucy Walker three times in as many days I can safely say I am obsessed with it.

When I sat down to watch it for the first time on Saturday I thought it would be another snowboarding video. Great footage, enviable fun, impressive camaraderie and an admirable desire to live each day as if it were your last. It was all of those things but so much more as well.

It followed Kevin Pearce who, between 2007 ~ 2009, was the world’s best trick snowboarder, and his friends, whilst they were at the top of their game.  Pearce was winning every competition in sight, earning ridiculous amounts of money in sponsership and basically having more fun than any of us might hope to have in a lifetime.  Along with his rival & childhood friend Shaun White they were changing the face of snowboarding. Shaun was seen as an almost superhuman robot rider who mechanically and methodically trained and ultimately won competition after competition. Then Pearce started taking over. He was immensely likeable, fun and a founding member of the boarding community called Frends {there’s no I in friends}. The competition between Pearse and White was intense viewing and in the run up to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver sponsers revelled in this rivalry.

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Then Pearce fell.

On New years eve 2009 he fell as he reentered a 22ft halfpipe and landed on his face. He was helicoptered to the nearest hospital where he lay in a coma after suffering from a TBI ~ traumatic brain injury. The rest of the documentary follows Pearce and his recovery but more importantly, and what I think hooked me so badly, was the impact it has had on his family and how they’ve coped with it.

Pearce is the youngest of four brothers with one of them, David, suffering from Down Syndrome. The relationship Pearce has with David and his other brother Adam, who quit his job to look after and rehabilitate Pearce full time after his accident, as well as his parents is what takes over the film. The support, love and sheer determination this family exude is emotional to watch and highly enviable.

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Pearce’s parents ~ Simon and Pia ~ say that having a child who has Down’s syndrome taught them so much already about being patient when it came to dealing with a son who became brain injured. Pearce had to learn to walk again, speak and get his brain as ‘well’ as it can be. {Three and a half years later he is still recovering} His memory was patchy with regards to long term memories but also, sometimes, what he’d been asked 5 minutes before. When Pearce sits down, two years after his accident and talks to his family about his need to get back on his board, and you can tell it is a need, almost an addiction to get back to what he knows and loves, a lesson in amazing parenting ensues.

There are no tantrums, name calling or ultimatums that you might expect when so much is at stake. There are discussions where Simon and Pia simply listen to their son, all of  four of them, with no judgment, no exasperation but just reply with how they feel. To have been through what they went through and to know that should Pearce hit his head again he would be paralysed or die I could not believe they didn’t lay down the law and tell him to never go near a snowboard again. They are calm and and thoughtful. They bought up their sons, who all suffer from dyslexia {Simon does as well} to try their best at school but to have fun and excel where ever they find their strengths and skills might lie. And they stick by that. They know that snowboarding is Pearce’s one true love and are simply, and quite rightly, scared for him.

Watching the way Simon and Pia held their family together through such pain and uncertainty made me realise what a bad parent I would be should I ever be foolish enough to try and raise a child or two. I’m not a strong enough or rational enough person to sit back and let someone take account for their own life if I knew there was so much danger involved. I know that I would be banging my fists on that dining room table and barking what I felt was right in their faces. I am a strong believer in learning from doing but I’m also far too opinionated and judgemental.

Due to Simon and Pia’s open & thoughtful manner Pearce listened to what they had to say. While he didn’t always agree with them he listened and took everything on board. When they realise there was no changing his mind they stood behind him 100% and let him tread his own path. They knew their son was his own man and they let him take responsibility for something he had thought long and hard about. While you could argue they’re being irresponsible parents I would say they are being selfless.

Bringing a child into this world is selfish. It’s because of your desire to have a baby and a family. Knowing when to let your child/ren start becoming their own person is when it really counts. To not force your ideas of who you want them to be or how you think they should live their life is hard. Simon does say at one point they were so wrapped up in the sponsers and the competitions that they were all to blame for how far Pearce and White pushed each other. Pearce himself doesn’t blame anyone though. He says there was never anyone making him to do what he did. He did it because he loved it.

The reason why I’ve watched this film three times in three days is due to this extraordinary family dynamic. There is a constant need in me to be a better person, in every aspect of my life, but especially when it comes to how I treat those I love.

Listen. Respect. Love. And let them be who they want to be.

Watch the film.

It’s still available on Sky ondemand and I hope you firstly appreciate what a great piece of film making it is but also how important communication, listening & understanding is.