A Film Reminds Me Why We Should Wear Riding Helmets

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A stunning documentary called ?The Crash Reel,? an HBO film about the journey of professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce following a life-changing crash and the resultant traumatic brain injury (TBI), caught my attention this week, thanks to my wife, Heather Bailey, lying in bed with a back injury and watching a lot of TV.

What does a documentary about a snowboarder have to do with riding' How about risk and concussion, safety vs. thrills'

Pearce was one of the favorites going in to the 2010 Winter Olympics, when a crash during training on New Year?s Eve, less than two months before those Olympics, changed his life forever. While a large portion of the film covers his struggle to recover, the film also highlights (more importantly in my view) the struggle of his friends and family to cope with the tragedy and its aftermath. There are also side glimpses of other athletes who?ve been permanently altered or disabled, one whom, died, as a result of multiple concessions or TBI?s.

Like snowboarding, equestrian sports fall squarely under the category of ?action sports.? Like snowboarding, equestrian sports struggle with the questions of safety equipment (its uses, effectiveness and the technology involved), and thrills for the fans versus the safety of competitors. Like snowboarding, equestrian sports are in constant conflict between the independent spirit of their founding fathers and current participants and the inevitable bureaucracy that accompanies the growth of any sport in to the mainstream.

I think every rider should watch this documentary, but I also believe that everybody who watches it will take something different away from it: different tidbits, scenes or moments that will haunt them and educate them.

These are my most memorable moments:

If you?ve ever been with someone who has been heavily concussed or suffered a TBI, the most challenging thing is that to the injured person, all is normal. They feel 100% in a normal state of being, and it's everyone around them who is acting inexplicably crazy. In one scene, Kevin gets back on a board to go down a mountain for the first time since his injury?nothing fancy, just a simple slide down the hill, and he can barely manage it. You can see and feel the confusion, the utter disbelief, at how unable he is. In his mind, his days of double-corks were just yesterday. To discover that he can barely slide in a straight line is absolutely bewildering to him.

In another scene, the producers reveal that the helmets worn by snowboarders are rated for crashing at speeds of approximately 14 miles an hour. However, once they raised the wall of the half-pipes to 22 feet, the speeds at which the boarders now travel vastly outstripped the ratings of their helmets. With all the hubbub about air vests in horse sports these days, I can't help but think that sometimes we put the human body in a position that no sort of technology can protect.

To me, it's Kevin?s mother, Pia, who is the most striking figure. Her steadfast and heartbreaking devotion to the youngest of her four sons grabs at your heart, especially watching her stricken face when he, in an altered state, announces his intention to board again. She is the heart of the story.

When I hear riders justify their decision to not wear a helmet, the most oft-repeated phrase is, ?My head, my life, my choice.? But unless you're an independently wealthy orphan, that's simply false. Without making light of Kevin Pearce?s personal struggle, it's his family, friends and loved ones who really carry the burden of his injury. And they're the one who are forced to try to move forward with the new Kevin who emerged from the wreckage of the old.

This is a tough movie to watch. Kevin Pearce will never again be an elite snowboarder?his greatest love and passion. Really, he'll never be normal again, and he may never be able to live independently. His personality, his vision, his health and his joy were all permanently changed. His world was permanently changed by a moment?s mistake while doing the thing he loved to do the most.

As horse people?an independent-minded group engaging in a dangerous activity?we could learn a lot from these snowboarders. We should all watch this movie.