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Road to Sochi: Documentary Highlights Dangers of Extreme Sports

The Crash Reel

As the Olympic Games get closer, the competitions are heating up. The Aspen-area athletes competing in ski racing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, snowboarding and freeskiing will find out soon whether they’ve made Team USA. Some local athletes compete in the halfpipe like snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler and freeskiersTorinYater-Wallace and Alex Ferriera. Skiing Halfpipe is a new discipline at the upcoming Olympics. Just like many competitions, this event can be dangerous and even fatal. A new documentary features 2010 Olympic hopeful Kevin Pearce who crashed during training and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.

The Crash Reel follows Kevin Pearce’s recovery and how he depends on his tight-knit family for help. Lucy Walker is the filmmaker behind the documentary. She says Pearce’s crash happened in Park City, Utah.

"He was attempting a trick called a Cab Double Cork and it was early morning, New Year’s Eve in 2009 and he landed ever so slightly off and caught his face. He landed right on his forehead instead of back on his feet."

After the accident, Pearce was in a coma and his initial recovery was difficult and slow.

"He’s still recovering four years later. Four years out, he’s still encountering a host of challenges and the film really details what a brain injury is like. A brain injury is an invisible injury and you can’t really see it. But, it’s very apparent for those who have one. It’s really life-changing and comes with a lot of challenges," Walker says.

Much of the documentary focuses on Kevin’s family and how they help him through the recovery process. Filmmaker Lucy Walker says dealing with hardship was nothing new for Kevin’s family and they thrived in the face of great challenge.

"I feel like we see a lot of dysfunctional people on screen, people without real problems, but they sure make a mess of things and this is the exact opposite. This is a family that’s been contending with a lot of disability even before Kevin was injured. Kevin’s brother David has Down Syndrome and all the men in the family have a severe form of dyslexia."

Professional snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler was with Kevin the day he crashed.

"When it comes to the dangers of snowboarding, snowboarding is absolutely dangerous, as are many other sports and most things we do in life. So, what do most people not know about your sport? And, I think most people don’t realize how much goes into what we do."

She says pro snowboarders spend nearly all of their time training and preparing for contests. And, even though it’s dangerous, she says everything is very calculated.

"This isn’t a sport we just started a couple of years ago and we’re just hucking ourselves and hoping for the best. This is something we spend every single day working towards."

Still, filmmaker Lucy Walker hopes her documentary starts a conversation about how extreme is too extreme.

"I really want these young athletes who are so passionate about what they do to be protected," she says.

Lucy Walker is the filmmaker behind The Crash Reel. It was released in theaters last month and will be available to download on January 14th. She also created a short film for the New York Times about Snowmobiler Caleb Moore who died after a crash during last year’s Winter X Games in Aspen.

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