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Olympic Snowboarding Hopeful Suffers Brain Injury

Wednesday, January 6, 2010, 22:50 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

The New York Times ran an article yesterday by a reporter who intended to do a story on a snowboarding competition this week in the lead-up to next month’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Instead, the story has taken a different tone.

The article I planned to write would coincide with this week’s halfpipe event at Mammoth Mountain, the second and third of five contests for the United States Olympic team. [Kevin] Pearce was considered a favorite.

It was written Thursday. A call to the Pearce house later that afternoon was intended to let them know and to double-check a couple of things.

[ . . . ]

When Pia Pearce returned the call two hours later, her voice was fraught with worry. She had just learned that Kevin had been seriously hurt in Utah. She and Simon were headed there immediately.

The news is sobering. Pearce, a New Englander with medal aspirations, was critically injured in a training accident in Utah on New Year’s Eve.

A prime contender for an Olympic gold medal in snowboarding was critically injured Thursday when his forehead struck the edge of the halfpipe as he practiced an aerial trick at Park City Mountain Resort.

After losing consciousness, Kevin Pearce, 22, was flown to University Hospital, where he underwent surgery to relieve fluid buildup in his brain, The New York Times reported. The hospital listed Pearce in critical condition.

[ . . . ]

The Vermont native was executing a “double cork” maneuever — a twisting, double back flip that is the latest evolution of the sport and represents an effort to keep up with White. “He did it a little too hard, put a little too much oomph into it, and over-rotated on the second flip,” U.S. coach Mike Jankowski told The Times.

Injuries of this magnitude in sports are possible but rare. I can recall only the cases of alpine skier Jill Kinmont (paralyzing neck injury in 1956) and professional hockey player Bill Masterson (fatal on-ice head injury in 1968), though I’m sure there are others.

One hopes for a complete recovery, but with Pearce still unconscious six days after the accident, that may not be realistic. The Den Mother had a college friend who suffered a severe brain injury in a car accident many years ago and remains impaired to this day, even though he made remarkable progress in therapy. On the other hand, my cousin, who was not expected to survive surgery for a serious head injury, somehow regained consciousness after just a few hours and now has only some short-term memory deficits and no sense of smell. It’s a crap shoot, and even the best neurosurgeons can’t explain why some people have much more long-term damage than others.

However the story ends for Kevin Pearce, his accident, like similar tragic events that befall young people, puts things into perspective. Sports are fun, but they aren’t life. Good luck to Pearce and his family.

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