Missing a Kid I’ve Never Met

I wasn’t much of a snowboarding fan until the possibility of a boarding “medal sweep” at these Winter Olympics seemed within reach.  When it did, it was because of this young man.

Followers of the sport called Kevin Pearce a serious challenge to Shaun White’s race for the gold this year.  But while working out his own version of a double cork on the last day of last year, Kevin hit his head on the wall of the halfpipe and suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Since then, he’s been busy doing something different.  Kevin is starting over.

As anyone who’s familiar with this kind of injury knows, each case of TBI takes its own path.  Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer disproportionately from TBI:  along with post-traumatic stress, it’s one of the two current signature wounds affecting our people in uniform.  The costs of caring for our men and women with TBI have risen so high that “Wounded Warrior” legislation now making its way through Congress would raise the level of government support for them.

Since January 1 of this year, I think of Kevin Pearce almost as often as I think of my own family members.  There’s something in that smile that caught my imagination and will not let go.  There is also something about his family:  those gentle people who will just sit quietly with their brother, their son, for hours.  They’re so grateful to have him, the smiling brother and son, still with them.  So happy to see him each day, they will wait and help and encourage and dream with him.

I wish everyone enjoyed that kind of love.  I think that it heals.  I wish I could prove this.

For each of us, doing something specific feels like life.  For me it’s writing.  I can’t imagine a day when I would not wake up and find the ideas and words rise to meet me, from outside and in.

For Kevin, I’ll bet that something is snowboarding.  I don’t know what he feels when he gets big air (never managed it, myself:  I like terra firma), but I envy him that feeling.  And I hope, more than anything else, that he finds it again.  I believe that he will.

Today Shaun White is on top of the world.  He may have dinner at the White House:  though he flipped that invite, as he does many things, on its head.

But for me, Kevin Pearce is still the story.  The distance he’s traveling — in quiet, among family and friends — is so much more interesting:  like waiting for the moment when it warms up enough to snow.

Get well, Kevin.  I miss you.

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