Kevin Pearce

Q&A with Kevin Pearce as ‘The Crash Reel’ sets to air

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The HBO debut of “The Crash Reel,” a documentary on snowboarding and the sport’s growing risks, shouldn’t be anything new for Kevin Pearce.

He’s seen the film, he’s lived the film and he’s been asked (and asked and asked) about the film. The opportunity to watch it on TV at his parents’ home in “the middle of nowhere” in Vermont on Monday night (9 ET) is still exciting.

“Pretty badass,” as Pearce put it.

Pearce is the focus of the 1-hour, 49-minute chronological compilation of home movies, interviews and snowboard footage directed by the Oscar-nominated Lucy Walker.

While Pearce never reached the Olympics, the film is very much about the Games from the opening scene. Key dates are identified as “XXX days before the Vancouver Olympics,” such as Dec. 31, 2009, 49 days before the Games.

A six-second clip from that New Year’s Eve morning is played three times throughout the film. Pearce is shown on a halfpipe run in a red jacket and dark pants with people on a ski lift in the background. He attempts the sport’s new, bar-raising trick, the cab double cork (a twisting double back flip). He misses. His head hits the snow, face first, with a sickening thud.

The rest of the film dives into Pearce’s rivalry with Shaun White and emotionally steps through his rehab from a traumatic brain injury. Freeskier Sarah Burke, who died on the same halfpipe in a training accident in 2012, makes a few short but powerful appearances in the film.

We’ll hold off on further details to let viewers learn on their own, but it sufficiently earned its place at the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW.

Pearce took time to answer questions about the film and his future in a telephone interview.

Q: What did you hope to accomplish with this film?

Pearce: What I really wanted was mainly to spread the word and spread the awareness of what a traumatic brain injury entails because I never had any idea until I had to muscle through it and drive through all the hard stuff and come back from it. I really tried to show people what was involved in the whole process, the power of family. What a supportive family can do to help somebody who is suffering, how it shows a family can help you come back and recover from what you’re faced with.

Q: What did you learn from seeing the finished product?

Pearce: I think really what I learned from it is what’s possible in life. It was super helpful seeing where I was, seeing what I put friends and family through and where I was at the end. I’m still fighting, but I got through the hardest parts of it. I made my way back.

Q: The footage of your crash is shown a few times in the film. What do you think when you see it now?

Pearce: If I had a tiny bit more speed and a little more air time, I would have been fine. Someone says it in the film that it was a perfect storm. Everything lined up perfectly that one moment for everything to go completely wrong. Unlucky, how close I was to being perfectly fine.

It’s also hard to think about because what has happened since, and what has come of it. It’s hard to know how to look at it. Was it so bad, or was it good? I woke up this morning and was able to brush my teeth, and a lot of people can’t say that. I look at it both ways. How lucky I am and how unlucky I am.

Q: Have you been back to the scene of the crash?

Pearce: I went back to Park City twice, went the last two years for Sundance, but I haven’t gone down to the mountain yet. It wouldn’t do that much for me to go back there. It’s not like this thing I’ve got to get back up there and come back to that halfpipe. I don’t really need to go near or have any interest of going near that pipe.

Q: Are there any safety measures you would like to see taken in snowboarding?

Pearce: Not at all. These kids should be allowed to do whatever they want. That’s why snowboarding is so special is because there are no rules. There’s nobody telling you what to do. I think helmets should be mandatory in these competitions, but for the most part they are.

It would be very hard on me if (because of me) there become rules in snowboarding. It would feel like I changed the sport.

Q: What are you up to now, and what’s ahead in the future?

Pearce: Public speaking. I’ve been getting out and sharing my story and trying to spread the message of safety and traumatic brain injuries and to share what I’ve been through and try to help kids in that sense. I’ve been announcing the X Games and then also other events. It’s a good way to stay in the sport and stay active in snowboarding.

Q: Are you going to the Olympics in Sochi?

Pearce: I actually am going to Sochi. I am going and carrying the torch at opening ceremonies for Nike.

Michael Johnson took Olympic mindset in stroke recovery

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Michael Johnson‘s first walk, reportedly three days after suffering a stroke in the summer, was 200 meters down a hospital corridor.

“It took about 15 minutes,” Johnson said in a BBC video, detailing his full recovery in recent interviews.

Johnson, who at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics swept the 200m (in a world-record 19.32 seconds) and the 400m, suffered what he called “a mini stroke” after a home workout in late August.

Johnson felt not pain but tingling leaving his home gym and underwent a 20-minute MRI. The 50-year-old, who worked out regularly and was in otherwise great physical shape, almost fell rising out of the machine.

“Couldn’t put any weight on left side, no longer could really move my left leg,” Johnson said in the BBC interview. “The numbness of my left arm, which was sort of mild at the beginning and up to that point, was really intense at that point. I couldn’t feel a lot of my arm. You immediately start to think about, what’s my life going to be like going forward?”

There was no immediate answer.

“You start to think about loved ones — is my wife going to have to take care of me for the rest of my life?” Johnson said, according to the Telegraph. “Am I going to be able to walk again? Am I going to be in a wheelchair? Am I going to be able to stand in the shower or go to the restroom alone? You’re forced to think about what your life might be like if that worse-case scenario is reality.”

He began physical therapy early the next week. After that first walk, the distance equivalent of a half-lap of the track that he owned in the 1990s, he told his wife, “I will make a full recovery, and I will make a full recovery faster than anyone has ever done it before,” according to the Telegraph.

Within two weeks, Johnson was backing that up. He tweeted a photo of himself on Sept. 13, his 51st birthday, grimacing while lifting a square-shaped weight with each hand. “Almost back to normal. No days off! Even today. My birthday!” the caption read.

On Sept. 27, Johnson tweeted that it had been grueling, but he relearned to walk and made a full recovery.

“Once I knew that I will make a full recovery, and once I started to believe that, it’s very similar to the type of situation that I experienced as an athlete training for the Olympic Games, then all of a sudden suffering a pulled hamstring,” said Johnson, who fell to the track in the 2000 Olympic Trials 200m final with an upper left leg injury, then won the 400m at his last Games in Sydney. “The reward, in this particular situation, was going to be even greater, was going to be able to walk again, regaining my mobility, regaining my independence.”

MORE: Michael Johnson: My advice to Usain Bolt on retirement

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Tatjana Hüfner, 2010 Olympic luge champion, to retire after this season

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Tatjana Hüfner, a 2010 Olympic luge champion and five-time world champion in singles, said she will retire after this season, according to German newspaper Bild.

Hüfner, 35, cited recent health problems, including back and leg injuries leading into her last Olympics in PyeongChang, where she finished fourth, missing a fourth straight medal by .69 of a second (Hüfner dropped from second place going into the last run). Plus breaking a rib in a training crash this preseason, plus suffering food poisoning, according to the report.

Hüfner, who reportedly said before February’s Olympics that they would be her final Games, has been arguably the most integral luger in Germany’s recent dominance in female sliding.

Her Olympic career began as a spectator at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, watching Sylke Otto lead a German medal sweep. Later, Hüfner would break Otto’s record with five world singles titles, plus join Otto on the podium at Torino 2006, earning bronze. Hüfner took gold in Vancouver, then silver behind the new leading woman, Natalie Geisenberger, in Sochi.

Huefner spent offseasons scaling European peaks such as Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, the Matterhorn, and the Sella in northern Italy.

This season’s world championships are in Winterberg, Germany, in January.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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