Pearce gets welcome home party
NORWICH, Vt. -- Kevin Pearce doesn't remember what happened that day at Park City Mountain Resort when he hit his head on the halfpipe while practicing for the Olympics. He's just grateful to be alive and plans to snowboard again.
The 22-year-old Pearce, whose road to the Vancouver Olympics ended with the Dec. 31 accident, spent four months in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, recovering from a severe traumatic brain injury. He still has blurry vision and problems with his balance.
You could hardly tell Saturday, when his Vermont hometown threw him an emotional "welcome home" celebration on the village green.
Walking gingerly but on his own, Pearce hugged his friends and well-wishers, threw T-shirts to children and thanked anyone who would listen for rallying to his side.
"I'd just like to say thank you you guys so much for everything you've done for me, and it's just so incredible how helpful it's been to me," he said. "Thank you all so much."
Fire trucks blew their horns, hand-lettered signs saying "Kevin is Home" and "KP Our Hometown Hero" adorned a white clapboard gazebo and Town Recreation Director Jill Kearney presented him with a baseball cap and golf shirt in a ceremony that drew about 200 people.
Kearney, the mother of Olympic gold medalist Hannah Kearney, choked up as she opened the ceremony, flanked by Pearce, his mother, father and three brothers.
"It was terrifying news on New Year's Eve, to hear of Kevin's accident," she told the crowd, her voice breaking. "I know I'm not the only one who lost sleep over this."
And Norwich wasn't the only place. Pearce's injury, which forced him to miss the Olympics, rippled through the snowboarding world, and "I Ride For Kevin" stickers and T-shirts started showing up. A Facebook page -- "Well Wishes to Our Friend Kevin Pearce" -- went online and had over 48,799 visitors as of Saturday.
Initially treated at the University of Utah, excess fluid was drained from around his brain and he was later transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in Denver.
On May 1, he returned home, where he continues to get occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy.
Typically, the recovery time for such an injury can be up to two years.
"I was told at the hospital that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and I'm telling you, that's what it is," said his mother, Pia Pearce, 58. "You look at him and he seems great. But it's a long, slow process to recover. The brain is phenomenal in its ability to adapt, but we'll see."
For his part, Pearce focuses on the present, since the past is painful, the future uncertain.
In a short interview after the ceremony, he said he considers himself lucky to have survived the accident. He knows his recovery will be long, and said he's in no rush.
"I'm going to snowboard again," he said.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press