The Crash Reel is a deeply moving feature length documentary about traumatic brain injury (TBI). In it, filmmaker Lucy Walker masterfully tells the story of champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce and how he and his family’s lives were changed forever after one fateful moment.
This film works at many different levels. At first the audience might think it is just watching a typical MTV style documentary glamorizing youth and extreme sports. The film, however, soon becomes something much more multi-faceted. While it presents interesting insights into the lives and choices of elite athletes, it also has broader relevance as an eye-opening portrait of the life-long impact that a traumatic brain injury can have on a person and their loved ones.
Kevin Pearce was an Olympic hopeful who was seen as real competition to Shaun White. His sport of snowboarding has not only been growing in popularity in recent years, but in degree of risk and difficulty as well. Injuries are becoming more frequent and devastating in all “extreme sports” as broadcasters and fans come to expect more complicated and dangerous maneuvers.
Between athletes and returning veterans, the number of traumatic brain injuries is increasing dramatically with at least 1.7 million occurring every year. Yet awareness about how to treat them and manage their consequences has not kept pace.
When Pearce is injured during practice for the Olympics his family heroically rallied to his side, spending months helping him emerge from a coma to being able to walk and function physically. The mental effects, however, proved even more challenging. They included damage to his brain’s ability to manage language, vision, motor skills and memory. TBI also causes impulsivity and poor judgement.
Even if one survives a TBI, the brain is left in a much more fragile state. After the first TBI one is 6 times more likely to experience another. These second injuries have even more devastating consequences than the first. For Pearce this meant having to gradually come to terms with the fact that he could no longer aspire to the dream he had been working towards his whole life.
Pearce was at first understandably reluctant to admit that he could never be the athlete or person he once was and tries to return to competitive snowboarding. His family desperately attempted to convince him that he could no longer follow this path. The heart and soul of the film is his brother David who has Downs’s syndrome. He possesses great emotional intelligence – more than most people. It is very moving to hear him eloquently express his worries about what another injury would put the family through again.
Pearce is now a sports commentator working to educate the public about TBI and supporting those coping with it through the LoveYourBrain outreach campaign and his Kevin Pearce Fund. The Crash Reel is a much needed window into the aftermath of traumatic brain injury, and should serve well to increase public attention and as a call to action.
The CDC’s Traumatic Brain Injury Page