After near-fatal brain injury, former snowboarder reclaims identity 10 years later

Former star snowboarder Kevin Pearce shared how he has found a new passion in life a decade after suffering a traumatic, career-ending brain injury.
/ Source: TODAY

A near-fatal injury in 2009 not only derailed Kevin Pearce's Olympic snowboarding dreams, it also robbed him of his identity.

Pearce was a star in the making as a 22-year-old when he suffered a horrific crash during a training run in Park City, Utah, that resulted in a traumatic brain injury.

"I don't remember the next 32 days," Pearce told Savannah Sellers in an interview that aired Friday on the 3rd hour of TODAY. "I had to relearn how to walk, I had to relearn how to talk. I had to start my life over again."

Pearce went from a medal favorite in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver to spending five months in the hospital recovering, all of which was detailed in the 2013 documentary "The Crash Reel." His older brother, Adam, was by his side every step of the way.

"Basically he brought me back to life," Pearce said.

Kevin Pearce was on his way to snowboarding stardom before he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2009 crash during training. Jonathan Moore / Getty Images

Nearly two years later, Pearce got back on a snowboard for the first time, only for a disheartening fact to finally sink in.

"It was damn emotional for me to feel that love that I have for snowboarding, but in a way it was like I knew when I got back on my board, that is what told me that I wasn't gonna be able to do it again," he said.

Pearce had been snowboarding since he was a little boy growing up in Vermont and it had come to define him.

"Losing snowboarding is definitely the hardest thing that I've ever had to deal with in my life,'' he said. "It's almost like a part of me's missing, but instead of going to that place, it's like, 'How do I find how to fill that void?'"

Nearly 11 years after his life-changing crash, Pearce, 32, has found new passions in yoga, meditation and helping others who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.

"I feel empowered again,'' he said. "I feel not back like I did on a snowboard but almost a different kind of greatness.

"When you have a brain injury you feel no hope, but there is hope. I'm just so unbelievably grateful that I got to go through this and understand that we are unbelievably resilient as humans."

He and Adam started the nonprofit LoveYourBrain in 2014, which helps people with traumatic brain injuries and their families. It offers yoga, meditation and mindfulness classes in 35 states and Canada and has helped 4,000 people affected by traumatic brain injuries. It currently is offering virtual courses online for free during the pandemic.

"I never would've imagined something so devastating at the time, how it would really transform me personally but also being able to use that experience to really support so many other people," Adam Pearce said on TODAY.

LoveYourBrain also has been responsible for introducing Pearce to his wife, Kaitlyn, whom he met when she hosted an event for the nonprofit. The couple are now expecting their first child in November.

"Snowboarding was great, winning all those competitions was awesome, but it's like that's history," Pearce said. "This is the present moment, and this is perfect in every single way possible."