Love Your Brain

HBO's "The Crash Reel" documents pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce's 2009 training accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury. The film will screen at X Games Aspen on Jan. 23 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House.

New Year's Eve 2012 marked three years since Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury in the Park City, Utah, SuperPipe while training for the 2010 Olympics. If you haven't noticed, Pearce has recovered remarkably well -- enough so that he can snowboard again, travel the world as his sport's unofficial good-vibes ambassador and deliver smart, live commentary at major competitions, including next week's X Games Aspen.

Pearce, 25, seems so solid on the outside, in fact, that it often takes conscious thought to remember where he was three years ago -- and how uncertain his future seemed. Over the next week, the world will be reminded of his miraculous story by a new documentary film chronicling Pearce's rise to snowboarding stardom, his tragic accident and, finally, his improbable recovery that continues to this day. "The Crash Reel," made by acclaimed filmmaker Lucy Walker and produced by HBO Documentary Films, premieres Friday at the Sundance Film Festival and will show at X Games Aspen on Jan. 23 at the Wheeler Opera House. (See the video above for a clip from the film.)

But, par for Pearce's course, that's not all he's been up to. He is also starting a new foundation designed to provide education and outreach for traumatic brain-injury survivors and regular people alike. It's called Love Your Brain, and the mission mirrors the name.

In advance of Pearce's big week, we reached him during a brief respite at his Carlsbad, Calif., home to find out how everything came together and where his recovery stands today. First things first: How's your health?
Kevin Pearce:
I had eye surgery last year and got back on a surfboard, which was awesome because before that I couldn't see anything. My eyes got misaligned horizontally and vertically from my accident, so they had to bring them back together because I had such bad double vision.

Now it's way better. When I'm moving or running, when my body's in motion, the vision's still pretty bad, but when I'm just sitting and chilling it's good. I've just been understanding that I'm going to continue to heal and work on getting better, and that's going to be a lifelong process.

Dean Blotto Gray

Sometimes, snowboarding feels like this.
Kevin Pearce, 2009.

What can you tell us about the film?
To be honest, Friday will be the first time I'll see the full movie. Obviously, I lived it and I filmed it, but it's going to be wild to see the story of my whole life, just because there's so much of it I don't remember. Obviously, when I was a little kid, I don't remember that stuff, and when I was in the hospital, I don't remember that stuff. There's so much of my recovery I don't remember.

Say someone who's never heard of you shows up at the premiere. What do you hope they learn from your story?
I really hope they learn anything's possible if you go about it the right way. You can heal anything, you can fix anything, but you have to have faith and make sure you approach it the right way, and that's what I've done the last three years. I've tried to do everything in the right way, in the best way, and I feel like that's why I'm doing so well today.

What's the genesis behind Love Your Brain?
I think what people really don't understand, and what was the biggest thing for me, is I hated my brain for so long after my accident. I hated all the things I did every day. Whether it was just saying stupid things to people or knocking over a glass of water or going into the grocery store and dropping a full thing of Pepto all over the store, it was just ridiculous stuff that I'd do every day.

And I'd get responses, whether it was from friends or random people, just like, "Why are you doing that?" And I would just get so mad at myself, so upset. I don't think I knew it, but I was really getting mad at my brain for these things it was doing. I was hating it, and that is so bad for your brain, and it's so destructive.

You said your neurologist, Dr. Daniel Amen, and your mom helped you change your outlook. How?
Dr. Amen just started going on about how you really need to appreciate your brain and be happy for everything it can do, and just love it for what it is. When I do something stupid, like spill something or knock something over or break something, I'm OK with that now. I'm like, "OK, I have to fix that," instead of getting mad at myself and getting down.

It's so cool because everybody can relate to this. It's obviously a lot bigger deal if you have an injured brain, but everyone needs to love their brain and love what they have.

Obviously, your competitive career is over, but how much of your lifestyle from before the accident have you been able to reclaim in the three years since then?
Mainly just riding with my friends. That is really what got me into the sport and that's how I got so addicted to snowboarding. It's because of that feeling I get and how you get to go out and be with all your friends, shredding and hanging. I really believe that's helped me so much and [has me] recovering so well -- just what snowboarding's like and the feeling I get from it.

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