It's all about learning to board on Snö
I’m not one for seeing late films on a ‘school night’ and as I pottered down the poorly lit Mall off Trafalgar Square towards the ICA Cinema I did grimace at the thought of dragging my poor tired little body out of bed at 6.30am…but showings of this film in the UK have been few and far between and I was adamant I wanted to see it and thanks to the BFI London film festival I completed my mission.
A little synopsis…
It was my first visit to the ICA cinema, what a perfect setting, small but not cramped, intimate but not uncomfortably so. Sitting watching the trailer I was full of apprehension… if you’ve heard of The Crash Reel, you know its about Kevin Pearce and his experience after suffering a traumatic brain injury…not necessarily a subject you can relish, but one that you know will teach you a few things you didn’t know with some stunning snowboarding combined into one. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I definitely think seeing and listening to everyone involved is actually the experience, so for those who don’t know much here is the link to the website with gives you an idea of what to expect http://thecrashreel.com
So what’s this blog about then!
I thought it would be good to let people know what impact this film had on my
view of snowboarding. I am after all only a beginner and why go and watch a film about a bad accident in the sport I’ve just taken up? Well for me it was partly to ground me. My experience of snowboarding so far has filled me up with an unspeakable hunger just to keep getting back on the snow. Its a feeling that definitely rears its head in me with most sports, but snowboarding seems to have gone that one step further and has caught me hook, line and sinker. So what’s the problem – surely that’s a good thing….the trouble is it has re-inspired within me the ‘No Fear’ factor that I complained about losing in I actually think I can Snowboard – but don’t quote me on that!…in some ways it’s not a bad thing, but my constant drooling over wanting to slide down a rail needs a little taming… I’ve just turned 33…it takes longer to heal if I smash my body up and there’s no telling what I might want to do once I’ve got to grips with jibbing!
What’s interesting to me about this is that The Crash Reel really highlighted to me that exact hunger that sits inside sportsmen (or women). Not something I was expecting. I’m not referring to the competitive appetite, though that is a definite part of it for those competitors at the top of their game (Nicky Lauda’s story of his time racing James Hunt cleverly illustrates this point in Rush).
The appetite in the spotlight is the feeling I get that drives me to want to go further than I have before, pushes me to keep going and take that next step to achieve something I haven’t before. In this film, one thing that remains a core topic is Kevin’s focus to return to snowboarding, in-spite of his doctors and family’s advice. Sitting there as a viewer I started off right behind Kevin and his desire, I understood why this was a focal point for him, beyond the fact he’d been practically born on a snowboard, the snow clearly gives him a feeling that cannot be matched in performing another activity (so far in his young life at least). It was also noticeable that he had chosen this as a point, a marker, for his recovery that confirmed to him he was getting better.
Traumatic Brain Injuries or TBI’s as they are often known, are not a new subject to me. I have been fortunate to experience, through my current job, meeting people who are undergoing neurological rehabilitation treatment for TBI’s, and I purposely say fortunate as the people I have interacted with (as well as their families, doctors and therapists) are quite inspirational. Now I’m not fully involved in this work, just generally on the peripherals, however one of the main features I’ve seen, of neuro-rehabilitation treatment, is how important it is to manage the expectations of the person with the TBI and their family or supporters surrounding them. As the film progressed it was quite interesting to watch how the doctors and family tried to manage Kevin’s expectations, and it wasn’t until I heard his reaction, when meeting another person who had received a TBI, that I realised he still hadn’t taken the extent of his accident on board. Kevin was introduced to another guy at the rehab centre, about his age, who had also suffered a TBI. Kevin’s words to his mother as he walked away, were ‘I was never like that was I? I was never like that?‘*
Yet sat there, as a viewer, I’d just watched and seen photos of his initial condition. That’s when it dawned on me, that his recovery couldn’t begin completely until he understood the damage that had been done and how bad it would be were he to hit is head again.
As the film continues, Kevin’s persistence doesn’t relent, his goal is to get back on a snowboard. He talks about it openly with his family, and the doctors with his family keep trying to explain the consequences. To me this part of the film is quite key, as to me it was noticeable that there didn’t seem to be any interaction with a sports psychologist. On the therapy side they seemed to miss that when Kevin was told he couldn’t do something, to him this was issuing a challenge. What makes the leading competitors in every sport, what made Kevin become an incredible snowboarder? To me its the internal attitude and strength of conviction in the individual – when everyone says it can’t be done, they drive to do it, and the drive doesn’t just get them to the top, it feeds their want to push above and beyond the limit that has been set.
An incredible turning point in my backing of Kevin’s hunger to get back on his snowboard, was interestingly not the repetition of the doctors or his family saying they were worried, that it shouldn’t be done. It’s was Kevin’s meeting with Trevor Rhuda and his mother. Trevor has also been a snowboarder, eager for the snow and talented at jibbing. You don’t get told the full story but in essence Trevor suffered a TBI and continued his life. He then suffered a 2nd TBI, and you watch as his mother asked him to identify his elbow. What seems a fairly simple request is impossible for Trevor at this stage. You sit watching thinking as he gets it wrong the first and second time he will by process of elimination get to his elbow. But Trevor doesn’t he no longer has this cognitive ability. I sat there watching with realisation dawning on me the affect of that second injury. And it wasn’t only me making this realisation, as he is sat next to Trevor you see the moment in Kevin’s face as it dawns on him, this is what could happen to him.
Even with this very real visualisation Kevin still gets back on a snowboard, and as I said before I can understand why, its a point he needs to get past, as a marker for himself. That doesn’t stop the lurch in your stomach as you watch Kevin, he catches an edge occasionally as he makes his way down the slope, the stumbles are small, though no more than I would make in a session (in fact probably considerably less), but for each one your stomach lurches and you just want him to get to the bottom. If that’s what I felt watching him on a cinema screen, imagine what his frends and family’s feelings must have been!
Watch it, watch it, watch it!
Even if you know nothing about snowboarding, this film is definitely worth seeing and my friend Meera can vouch for that! This isn’t an actor, this is a real person, real people who have let you get a snapshot of their experience. Lucy Walker is the Director who brought this experience to life and for those in the UK it premiers via Sky Atlantic on 5th November.
An ongoing challenge…
As Kevin continues his recovery over three years after his accident, you learn from the film that he is not one to sit back and let others take over. He’s finding a new way forward by becoming proactive about TBIs, talking to other survivors and support groups raising awareness of how it effects a survivor and their families. The Crash Reel is definitely a part of this. Kevin’s input is so powerful for current snowboarders and the youngsters with the hunger to meet and surpass the incredible standard Kevin achieved.
Even though its just my voice this little blog is to do my bit in helping to raise awareness of Traumatic Brain Injuries and wearing a helmet.
*not a direct quote – but close to it!