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Image: Kevin Pearce
TODAY
Snowboarder Kevin Pearce, 22, discussed on TODAY in August 2010 his rehabilitation after suffering a major blow to the head in a halfpipe accident.
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updated 12/9/2011 1:25:41 PM ET 2011-12-09T18:25:41

Instead of riding for Kevin, snowboarders can ride with Kevin again.

Kevin Pearce's remarkable recovery will reach a major milestone next week when he gets back on snow for the first time in the two years since his life-threatening accident on the halfpipe.

"I'm kind of trippin' that we're finally here," Pearce said Thursday.

Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident during practice Dec. 31, 2009, that left him in a coma. His plight spawned the slogan "I Ride 4 Kevin," and ever since the accident, those stickers and patches have been plastered across snowboards and jackets on slopes across America.

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Video: Snowboarder on TODAY: Helmet saved my life (on this page)

He'll return for a few "mellow" runs down the mountain Tuesday in Breckenridge with fans, sponsors and a group of fellow snowboarders, including Mason Aguirre and Danny Davis, who call themselves the "Frends" — they leave the "i" out because they believe snowboarding should be about group fun instead of individual accomplishments.

"I don't feel nervous at all," Pearce said. "It's weird because of how bad of shape I'm in and how hard some things are for me. But snowboarding is so natural to me. I've been doing it since I was 5. I know it so well. I'm so aware of myself on a snowboard that I know I'll be totally fine."

On New Year's Eve in 2009, Pearce was working on the toughest trick in the sport — a Double Cork 1260 — and was expected to challenge Shaun White at the 2010 Olympics. But he slammed his head hard against the halfpipe in Park City, Utah, and was transported to the hospital in critical condition. After he came out of his coma, doctors told him he'd be lucky to walk again, let alone ride a snowboard.

Video: Snowboarder recovers from edge of death (on this page)

But through a series of small steps, he slowly recovered. A year ago, on a return visit to his doctors at Craig Hospital in Denver, he said he felt good enough to ride, but the doctors told him he needed at least another six months.

Six months passed. Now, it's been a year.

"This whole thing has been about being patient and taking the time to let it happen," Pearce said. "I've seen kids who haven't taken the time and have gotten their second or third brain injury. It's beyond belief what they go through. That's not worth it to me after the work I've done. I've been very patient with everybody and I've been taking the right amount of time. Everyone agrees, and now, we're ready to go."

One of the final hurdles was correcting his eyesight. The accident left him with double vision that required glasses so thick, he needed heavy duty Croakies to keep them on. He had surgery about a month ago and says his eyesight is dramatically improved.

World Blog: Olympics dreams lost, but Pearce stays strong

He concedes he's not all the way back. His memory is shaky. He still falls and spills things. Sometimes it gets frustrating.

But, he says, it's time to ride again.

"I'm not going to do any double corks in the halfpipe. Yet," Pearce said. "Just some mellow runs down the mountain and cruise and enjoy ourselves. Just have fun. Not be too serious. That's the plan as of now."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Snowboarder recovers from edge of death

  1. Transcript of: Snowboarder recovers from edge of death

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Just weeks before the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver , US snowboarder Kevin Pearce sustained a traumatic brain injury during a halfpipe training accident . But now his recovery has taken a remarkable turn. NBC 's Tom Brokaw 's here with details on that. Tom, good morning. Good to see you.

    TOM BROKAW reporting: Matt , good morning to you. The Pearce family worried that Kevin would not survive at first, but after spending months in the hospital he has finally made the journey home from Craig Hospital in Colorado to his beloved family home in Norwich , Vermont .

    Mr. KEVIN PEARCE: All right. That's it, baby! Three months in Craig and I'm out! Later. There's nothing better that I could ever imagine happening than getting to come back here and be in the shape I'm in.

    BROKAW: Looking at him now, it's hard to believe that four and a half months ago Kevin Pearce almost died.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS reporting: American snowboarder Kevin Pearce remains in critical but stable condition tonight after a training accident yesterday.

    He was wearing a helmet at the time but still sustained some serious injuries .

    Offscreen Voice: Pearce was put on a breathing tube and kept in a coma to limit the swelling of his brain. Six days after the crash, he began to slowly regain consciousness, but he has no memory of that time.

    BROKAW: It was a whole month that I was in the hospital and they cut into my head and put drains in my head and they did all this stuff to me and I don't remember a single thing.

    Mr. K. PEARCE: He has spent every day since then in rehabilitation trying to heal. What was the most frustrating for you?

    BROKAW: The balance and the memory because my memory was very, very bad and it still is pretty bad. And I still find myself asking people questions twice or three times. When I first started -- when I walked down the hallway and I'd turn my head to the left or right I'd fall over. And now I can do that fine. So my balance is definitely coming back, but it's a very slow process, so.

    Mr. K. PEARCE: And what's going on with your eyesight?

    BROKAW: When I first went to Craig Hospital my eyesight was so bad that when I took the glasses off it would just be crazy blurry and I couldn't see anything. And now when I take them off I can see you fine, not totally fine, but I can see you fine.

    Mr. K. PEARCE: I've always been intrigued by brain injuries because we're asking the brain to help us heal it. Do you find yourself kind of talking to your brain from time to time ?

    BROKAW: I do, yeah, and I have done that a lot. Why is this going so slow? What is going on here?

    Mr. K. PEARCE: Before the accident , Pearce was expected to be an Olympic medal contender. But he wound up watching the games from his hospital bed.

    BROKAW: That was quite hard for me seeing how fun the halfpipe looked and just knowing that that was really what I wanted to be doing was riding the halfpipe. And I had worked so hard to get there and then the accident happened and kind of everything was just completely over.

    Mr. K. PEARCE: The tremendous support he received eased the pain. Almost 50,000 friends on Facebook helped as well.

    BROKAW: And the whole time I was in the hospital for the last four month I was getting cards from people just saying how excited they were for me that I was doing so well and that was just so special to me.

    Mr. K. PEARCE: Most important, his parents and three brothers were there every step of the way.

    BROKAW: I've learned a lot from Kevin . His positive attitude 's probably the biggest one.

    Unidentified Brother #1: He's always willing to do what he needs to do to get better. And that's just what's impressed me so much.

    Unidentified Brother #2: I'm so relieved and thank God that he's alive.

    Unidentified Brother #3: What they have done has been so beyond anything that I could ever explain. And I feel like my progress has sped up a lot because I've had them and the work that they've put in.

    Mr. K. PEARCE: What have you learned as parents going through something like this?

    BROKAW: To be able to be with our adult sons in a very unusual situation and get to see them shine in a way that we would never have been able to see if we hadn't had this happen.

    Ms. PIA PEARCE (Kevin's Mother): It's a joy to be with him and to share this recovery with him, and with the rest of the family.

    Mr. SIMON PEARCE (Kevin's Father): Every border in the world wants to know whether you're going to get back to the sport.

    BROKAW: I think that's the most exciting part, is that, yes, I will get back to snowboarding.

    Mr. K. PEARCE: I suppose there may be some parents out there who will be saying to their children, `I don't think I want you boarding, look what happened to Kevin .'

    BROKAW: I mean, I feel bad for those kids just because snowboarding is such a great sport and it is so fun and it's brought me so much joy. I would never change it for anything. You know, even after having this accident , I still love it so much.

    Mr. K. PEARCE: Now a gold medal is obviously the dream of every Olympian. But there are other rewards in life as well.

    BROKAW: Oh, yes. And the gold medal for me at the time was kind of the only thing that was on my mind and the only thing I could think about and then having something like this happen to you, it just totally chances your perspective on things and just being alive and being able to be OK and be with my family was much more important to me.

    Mr. K. PEARCE: Matt , it is a remarkable family. And they're a model, I think, for a lot of other families who are undergoing their own trauma right now. David prepared a script for me when I arrived.

    BROKAW: This is Kevin 's brother.

    LAUER: It was his homecoming speech. He said how David feels about Kevin being home. `I have very happy and excited that he's home. I feel very relieved.' And I think he speaks for all of us when he says that.

    BROKAW: That's a great story . And it's a really cool family.

    LAUER:

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