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Scotty Lago, who won a bronze medal in halfpipe at the Vancouver Games, and his United States teammate Greg Bretz were among the first to reach Pearce, who lay unconscious at the bottom of the pipe.
Torah Bright, an Australian who won a gold medal in women’s halfpipe at the Olympics, began praying.
“It was pretty horrific to see someone go down like that,” she said. “It was unsure for so long how serious everything was.”
For some of those present, Pearce’s injury — the first of its kind for a competitive snowboarder — gave momentary pause.
“It really kind of put things in perspective, what we do,” said Gretchen Bleiler, who will compete in the women’s superpipe final Saturday. “It’s a sport and it’s a game and when that happened, it just kind of makes you think, is this worth it? Is it worth your life?”
She added: “For me it was really tough to validate what we were doing. But it’s what we love, it’s what Kevin loves.”
So Bleiler and others here have been heartened by Pearce’s recovery and his presence at competitions. In December, Pearce showed up at a Winter Dew Tour stop in Breckenridge, Colo. This month he made his way to another Dew Tour event in Killington, Vt.
“Seeing him for the first time you wonder, ‘Do you remember me?’ ” Bleiler said. “But it’s not like that. Kevin’s back and he remembers everyone, but things are a little different. Having him up there and be so excited to be alive and to be up on the mountain, seeing it is an amazing thing.”
At pipe practice Thursday, Ellery Hollingsworth, a 19-year-old from Connecticut, stopped and gave Pearce a big hug after one of her runs.
“Everyone looks forward to seeing him at the bottom of the pipe,” she said. “He lifts everyone’s spirits and energy.”
Most of the riders cruising past had a high-five or a wave for Pearce.
After one of Lago’s runs Thursday, Pearce ran over and hugged him.
While Pearce signed autographs, Lago said: “He’s doing great. He can hold an intelligent conversation.”
Pearce said he was having a harder time than others were in seeing improvements in his brain function.
“I notice how my golfing is getting better and how my tennis is getting better,” he said. “I can play pool way better. My balance is getting better. Everything else goes so slow.”
His eyesight has improved, but without his glasses he sees double. Last week he got his driver’s license again.
As for a return to snowboarding, doctors at Craig Hospital said Pearce’s brain was not ready. “I thought this whole time it was a one-year process, a brain injury healing,” he said. “They just broke the news to me that it’s a two-year process. So that was pretty hard to hear.”
In the meantime, Pearce plans to stay active in snowboarding. On Thursday night, he will provide commentary on ESPN’s broadcast of the superpipe men’s elimination.
“There’s so many different things that I do on a trip like this,” Pearce said. “Even if it’s not called therapy, it is therapy in a totally different kind of way.”
Part of that therapy is coming to terms with the reality that he will probably never again perform on a snowboard the way he used to.
“It’s pretty trippy not to be in there riding with all these kids because I feel like I can do it so easily and I know I can do it so well, but I can’t anymore,” Pearce said. “It’s very bittersweet. I’m so lucky that I can stand here and be talking to you. It’s bitter that I’m not going to be back up in there. It’s not a good feeling. But it’s a good feeling that I’m safe and healthy.”
Up in the pipe, Pearce’s close friend Danny Davis was making one of his runs. Weeks after Pearce’s injury, Davis broke his back and pelvis in an accident on an all-terrain vehicle, ending his own Olympic dreams. The X Games will mark his return to competition.
As the morning wore on, Pearce mentioned taking a nap. He wanted to be ready for this week’s broadcasts, and all the travel had drained him.
Behind him more riders launched off the sculpted snow walls of the halfpipe, spinning, sticking landings or skidding out in the continual back and forth and ups and downs of snowboarding.Continue reading the main story