The Crash Reel ~ Rethinking The Impact of Action Sports

The Crash Reel ~ Rethinking The Impact of Action Sports


Photo by Adam Moran

Even if you’re not one to follow the hard tumble sport of snowboarding a new film will you put into perspective both the triumph and tragedy weighed in the balance of adventure sports. The HBO documentary The Crash Reel follows the real life rise and catastrophic fall of aspiring Olympic board rider Kevin Pierce. But unlike most stories that depict the heroic come back of an injured athlete this feature illustrates the wisdom and compassion it takes to learn when it’s time to quit.

On New Year’s Eve 2009, while learning the intricate movements of a particularly difficult trick on a half-pipe in Park City Utah, Kevin experienced a high impact snowboard crash that resulted in a traumatic brain injury. After months of recovery and multiple surgeries to correct the damage he sustained Kevin was able to return to his loving family, eager to resume his life as a competitive athlete. But with severe brain damage that would never fully heal the ambitious young boarder is stubbornly made to face the tragic reality of having to abandon his dreams.

What makes this remarkable film by director Lucy Walker so compelling is audiences are given a front row seat to the aftermath of a devastating event that is far more common than we realize. As spectators we marvel season after season as talented young men and women soar through the air performing amazing feats of skill and daring. But whether on a snowboard or on a skateboard on a snowmobile or a dirt bike these thrilling tricks are incredibly dangerous. And when these athletes fail to stick their landing the resulting trauma to life and limb can have broad ranging consequences that are seldom limited to mental disfunction, paralysis or even death.

As seen through the film, Kevin’s family and friends are made to feel the impact of his crash as well. In addition to his obsessive desire to get back to snowboarding which concerns everyone around him, he experiences lapses of memory. He has limited impulse control. He suffers from depression and he’s prone to erratic behavior. With the same drive and determination that made him a world-class competitor he’s prepared to push through the limits of his disabilities. But over time he becomes painfully aware that his injuries have rendered him incapable of recognizing a new set of boundaries that now define his life. Kevin resists the pleas of those how love him to give up snowboarding as they fear losing him to another hard fall.

Kevin & Michael Pierce (left) courtesy of the Pierce family

Kevin & Michael Pierce (left) courtesy of the Pierce family

It’s perhaps his brother Michael who has the most profound impact on Kevin’s decision to set aside his snowboarding aspirations. A young man with down syndrome Michael has faced since birth a disability that has limited his options while challenging him to lead a life that is both happy and productive. Kevin learns from Michael’s example that there can be more to his existence than the excitement and freedom that he enjoyed as a competitive athlete. The Crash Reel demonstrates that the love of one’s family and the obligation to return their affection is infinitely more important than winning a gold medal.

This documentary offers up a critical lesson to anyone who loves action sports or aspires to become an extreme athlete. The Crash Reel is a cautionary tale that shows how quickly one can elevate their hard work and talent into a successful career as a professional. But the film also reveals with stunning clarity how everything can be dashed and swept away in an instant. The hard charging daredevil is not only putting at risk his or her own life and safety but the broken hearts of those who care for them. Through Kevin’s story the audience comes to understand that despite all that can be gained in a life full of adventure there is also great a deal to loose, important things we might take for granted or never realize we even had. In the end after the fame and glory are gone all that remains are those things that truly matter, your friends, family and hopefully the kind considerate person they had grown to love.
Kevin Pierce now advocates for organizations that support brain injury, Down syndrome and other cognitive challenges. Learn more at


The Joy Trip Project is made possible thanks to the generous support of MAKO Surgical Corporation

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