olympic contender returns to snowboarding after brain injury

Individuals who suffer from TBIs often fear they have a lifetime of physical and occupational therapy ahead. In many situations, people in Pittsburgh and throughout the country feel as though they have little hope for a full recovery. Thankfully, there are people who show that this doesn’t need to be the case. The following story is about one young man’s journey to recovery, which we hope will be inspirational to any who have suffered a brain injury, whether through an accident or as a result of medical negligence.

Kevin Pearce — a snowboarder who was preparing for the Olympics — recently hit the slopes after his traumatic brain injury at the end of 2009. Pearce hit his head on the halfpipe while practicing the trick that was supposed to win him a gold medal at the winter Olympics, which were less than two months away at the time.

Although his recovery was grueling, and simple tasks like walking, talking and seeing straight were difficult, Pearce never gave up on his dream of returning to snowboarding. Now, almost two years after his accident, Pearce has returned to the slopes. He took just three trips down the hill, but he said his new goal is to continue having “special days like this.”

Throughout his recovery, doctors routinely told Pearce’s mom, “Don’t take his hope away.” She said that this was the most important message to learn from his accident, and she encouraged him to work hard so he could get back on the hills.

Sadly, athletes suffering concussions or more severe brain injury in pursuit of their dreams is not unheard of. Pearce’s mom said Pearce can serve as a “role model and mentor for all those…athletes who get concussions,” but even she admitted that it may be difficult for Pearce to step back when he wants to push himself again.

The culture of sports is to push through injuries and work hard under any condition. Athletes who are able to go through their entire careers without serious or life-threatening injuries are lucky. Some may view this as the part of the price of admission for having a career in sports. But when facing the potentially devastating consequences of concussion and brain injury, more should be done to protect athletes.

New regulations have been implemented in many states to bench high school athletes who show concussion-like symptoms during games. However, there is no similar protection net in place for professional athletes. What will it take to teach our national sports heroes that they need to put as much emphasis on protecting their health as they do on winning? Until that happens, we will continue to see athletes who suffer brain injuries in their innocent quests for gold.

Source: ESPN, “Kevin Pearce hits slopes again,” Associated Press, Dec. 14, 2011

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