SAXTONS RIVER -- Kevin Pearce still snowboards.
Although the former pro rider took a fall that cost him his career and the opportunity to compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics at Vancouver, he still has a lot to offer to the sport.
"I landed on the right frontal lobe of my brain," said Pearce. "Where I hit my brain had a lot to do with my vision and eye sight, my memory and my balance. There are a lot of things I'm working on recovering and healing."
Doctors told him that his helmet saved his life.
On Feb. 22, Pearce spoke to students at the Vermont Academy about the injury and how it changed his life. He was introduced as one of the most extraordinary snowboarders who is an inspiration to all.
In a video clip from the documentary "Crash Reel," which lasted several minutes, Pearce spoke of how he was going to the Olympics and he was the person most likely to beat Shaun White.
Then he attempted to do a trick known as a half cab double cork. It involved approaching the lip of the halfpipe backwards to do two flips and two spins.
"It might have been the worst thing I've seen in my life," says one eyewitness in the film.
Pearce showed the students a photograph of him and White from a basketball tournament that was held during the U.S. Open at Stratton.
"I always wanted to get to his level. I wanted to be the best. I was always looking up to him and trying to be where he was," said Pearce. "Then I started having so much fun, putting energy and focus in. I traveled around the world. I went to Norway, Switzerland, everywhere, competing and winning."
It came time to prepare for Vancouver and Pearce signed a contract with Nike. The company agreed to build him a halfpipe with an airbag so that he could begin practicing tricks that were never done before. He started landing double corks.
But each time Pearce went to do it backwards, to achieve the half cab portion of the trick, he was injured.
The first injury was a fractured ankle. He recovered from that and started competing in the qualifying events for the Vancouver games.
During a training session in Park City, Utah, Pearce tried it again and ended up suffering a traumatic brain injury. He was 23 years old at the time.
"I spent months re-learning how to talk, walk and swallow. All these normal things," said Pearce. "I can win this battle I'm fighting right now."
Coming to terms with the injury was a challenge for him. He had to learn how to accept it and overcome it.
Although Pearce felt ready to hit the slopes again, he explained that the damage had affected his vision. When he went to ride, it was not the same.
"For a long time, I thought I could get back into snowboarding. It's kind of set in now that I need to do something new," he added.
Now, Pearce sticks to mostly riding in powder. He stays out of the halfpipe and terrain park. It is a safer way for him to continue to enjoy the sport.
Pearce also founded Love Your Brain, an organization he describes as "being all about preventing these things from happening and when they do, helping to rehabilitate." He pointed out that there are 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries every year.
Snowboarding used to be what Pearce woke up for in the morning. Now, it's being able to help people and trying to make the world a better place that gets him out of bed each day.
"If I can put helmets on kids, make sure they're active and having fun but doing it in a smart, safe way, that gets me excited," he said. "What I love the most is trying to educate kids but have them have as much fun as they're having."
When asked if he gets nervous riding now, Pearce said it was a different kind of nervous feeling. He advised that riders be safe when trying out new tricks and not to attempt ones beyond their limits.
"I don't discourage it at all just because of how much joy and happiness it brought me. I was most alive when I was doing that stuff," he continued. "I think if you can get to that place, I say go for it. I try to get kids to do it safe. It's crazy when they're doing these things without helmets on."
For more information, visit kevinpearce.com or follow @loveyourbrain on Twitter and Instagram.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or email@example.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.