DENVER — 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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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.
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."
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