ASPEN, Colo. -- The dumbest ride Kevin Pearce ever took down the halfpipe wasn't the one that ended his snowboarding career. That run on Dec. 31, 2009, the one that resulted in a traumatic brain injury less than two months before the Vancouver Olympics, came less than three weeks after the run Pearce says he should have never taken.
Earlier that month, Pearce, who was 22 at the time, was pushing to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team and emerging as a challenger to Shaun White. Trying to land a cab 1080, a trick that Pearce had "on lock," he fell and hit his head. Hard.
"I was so sick and so dizzy and so gone after that," he recalled this month.
But Pearce's handling of less severe concussions and his life-changing brain injury highlight the extremes of what can go wrong when athletes hurtle themselves three stories in the air to perform tricks on a hard-packed halfpipe.
White, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, will defend his halfpipe title this weekend at the U.S. Open snowboarding championships in Vail, Colo. While the season ends in March, White and other athletes will spend the coming months working on tricks in pursuit of medals at the Sochi Olympics less than a year away.