With one eye, or better, one side of the brain, we watched in awe, amazement and wonder at snowboarder Shaun “The Red Tomato” White win Gold at the Olympics. His grace, joy and exhilaration – performing super human stunts, could be considered inspiring. But that’s the bright side of the counterculture sport and life on the halfpipe. The other side is the specter of brain injury.
The Vancouver Sun ran a moving story on the other side of the snowboarding experience, that of the young man who has beaten White twice. Kevin Pearce, 22, is now watching the Winter games from the sidelines – from a hospital bed, to be exact.
Pearce, a Vermont native, hit his head on the edge of the halfpipe trying to do the double cork move in Park City, Utah, on New Year’s Eve. He suffered severe brain damage and had to be airlifted to a hospital, where he was in a coma for weeks.
He is now at a facility that specialized in brain and spine injuries. Odds are he won’t ever snowboard again. He just started talking again. He needs to learn how to walk again. He is having problems with his vision.
Chasing thrills and that adrenalin rush can exact a high cost. Only Pearce can say if it was worth it. But the leaders of this sport must make sure that the limits of risk taking are not just the judgment of young daredevils. Safety is ultimately so much more important. Neither the athletes nor we as spectators need these kind of thrills at the risk of a young person’s future.
Post Note: Snowboarder Kevin Pearce is being treated at the Craig Hospital in Denver, http://craighospital.org Craig is the NIDRR Model System Center for TBI for the Rocky Mountain Region, and the TBI NIDRR National Statistical Data Center.