This is the English version of the KP interview that is being featured in this months Trans-World Japan. The magazine did the translation and editing, this is the raw English text that I wrote. So there might be some slight differences if you were to compare both. Big thanks to Kevin for letting us visit and chat!
On December 31st 2009 while practicing at a half-pipe in Park City Utah Kevin Peace hit his head just above his right eye. He was knocked unconscious and sustained a TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury. Any hope of competing in the Olympics was lost, now it was just a matter of survival. Nine months later KP is back home and well on the road to a full recovery. Trans-World has arranged for me to meet and interview this star of snowboarding. How has he been affected, will he snowboard again, does he even remember the accident? These are the questions on my mind as the fall colors whiz by my window.
A two hour drive into the Vermont country side ends in the middle of green fields and classic New England style barns. Our navigation system has given up with the simple statement “you have arrived at your destination” but there is no house in site. Just then a truck pulls up and a smiling man in his 50’s leans out the window. “Hey are you here to meet Kevin? I am his father Simon, he is waiting to see you guys at the house just down this road” He points down a long driveway. Kevin’s father is a well known artist who runs a company that makes pottery and glassware.
Ten minutes later we are all sitting in the spacious living room of Kevin’s family house. His older brother Adam is there as well and his Mother Pia takes a moment to serve coffee and show us some pictures from Kevin’s injury and hospital time which she has gathered into a file folder. There is a picture of Kevin moments after the accident, laying at the bottom of the pipe. Unconscious, his face already starting to swell. It is a hard picture to look at, but it does show how far Kevin has come in the last few months.
Kevin yawns occasionally while we talk at the coffee table in his house. He is not tired or bored though. The yawning is a natural side effect from the brain injury. A way for the brain to get the extra oxygen it requires. If you didn’t know that Kevin had a TBI you would never guess by looking at him. He looks fine, but he is still suffering from side effects. Eye sight is an issue, his focus is good now, but he sees everything in double vision. The stylish Volcom eyeglasses he has on are affixed with a special film on the right eye that fixes the double vision. Balance is another issue, and of course memory loss is a common side effect of brain injuries. I had met KP in Japan a few times, the last being the X-Trail Jam contest in the Tokyo Dome. I had a feeling he didn’t remember me, so I decided to start off the interview about his general memory of Japan.
N: Do you remember your filming trip to Hokkaido with Absinthe crew? And how about the contests Toyota Big Air and X-Trail Jam?
K: If people bring something up I can remember it, but if no one says anything about it, I can’t remember it. I can remember that contest pretty well, the Toyota Big Air. And I can remember that pow trip because it was with Nicolas and it was so much fun, but if it is stuff that I don’t really care about, then I don’t remember it.
Like the other day we went in to see this eye doctor, maybe about two weeks ago, or maybe about a month ago, and I didn’t really like her that much. We didn’t get along that well. We went back a week later and I didn’t remember her at all, like nothing. Then my Mom was acting like she really knew her and I said, Mom how do you know this lady? And she said, “we were in here last week”, and I am like, wow I don’t remember that at all.
N: So if you’re not passionate about it then it doesn’t stick in your memory?
K: Totally, riding with Nicolas was so fun and crazy for me that I totally remember it.
N: What about childhood stuff, what can you remember from your youth?
K: It is kind of the same situation really, if someone brings stuff up I can remember it, but nobody has really brought that stuff up.
Adam: You can remember all the high school soccer games and stuff.
K: Oh yeah I remember all that. and when we used to have that sand… what was it called.
K: Yeah that sandbox out there, (Kevin points to outside the house) I remember playing in that, but we were pretty young then. I remember that stuff. And like mowing the lawn I was really big into that. How old was I when I was doing that?
Mother Pia: Probably like 6 or 7
K: I was talking to my dad the other day about the lawn mower, and I said do you remember when I was too light for the seat and it wouldn’t work? you have to be a certain weight for it to run. I remember that stuff.
Pia: This is off the topic, but do you remember your one Japanese fan who sends you all the candy. What are those candies called… something chews?
K: Hi-chu’s! They are my favorite candy ever. She asked me if she could send me something and I said oh yeah! Her name is Yayoi. She is like a super fan. She even made the Hi-chu package with a “Frends” logo! I would show you, but we ate them really quickly.
N: We know that you don’t have any memory of the actual accident, but what is the last memory you do have.
K: I think it was the day before the accident, no I think it was two days before because Jack’s birthday is the 29th or is it the 30th. It happened on the 31st right? His birthday was the night before the accident and I totally remember that, just because that was a pretty big occasion and important occasion for me so I remember going to the bar, I totally remember that. The first bar we were at was so crowded we were not into it, so we left that one and went to another bar and it was totally empty and you had to pay to get in and then we had this dance party there and I totally remember that really well and that was the last memory I have.
Luke Mitrani told me that we played rock scissor paper to see who went first and I lost so I went first, but I have no remembrance of that at all. Nothing of that day and for a month and half after that.
N: So what is your first recollection after that?
K: It was getting on an airplane leaving Salt Lake City going to Craig Hospital in Denver and I remember them taking me in the ambulance on a stretcher to the airplane. He (Adam) sat in the front next to the pilot.
Adam: It was a medical plane
K: it was really loud and loud noises didn’t work really well for me and I remember the flight attendants were really annoying and I was dealing with them thinking, God this is really not fun. That was my first memory. I don’t remember at all being in Park City in Salt Lake. So that is pretty weird.
N: Did you even know where you were going?
K: I think they all told me where I was going right? (asking Adam)
Adam: Yes but you were still not functioning enough to really know what was going on.
K: It is weird because I remember feeling really fine. I felt like I could do anything, I felt like I could walk, but I couldn’t walk. I would always try to get out of my bed at this hospital called Craig to try and go to the bathroom, and they would tell me no you can’ t walk yet.
N: So what was the first stages of rehab for you when you got to Craig hospital, do you remember?
K: You know that is weird, I don’t really remember that stuff. do you? (to Adam)
Adam: Yeah it was like starting learning how to walk, how to get up out of a wheel chair.
K: I was in a wheelchair for a while right? Like three weeks.
Adam: After the walking came the whole balance thing, a lot of balance work. that was the main focus in the beginning.
K: We did that for a while and my balance was really bad, like really really bad. I would walk down the hall and look either way and fall over just from that. But it is crazy now to see how good my balance has gotten. It is totally crazy to see how much better I am getting. It is happening pretty fast.
Another part of the brain I messed up makes time go really slow. Like crazy slow, weeks feel like months, you know a lot of stuff has changed in the last nine months, but that hasn’t. A nights sleep, you know how they go like that (snaps finger). A night takes forever, it is so weird.
N: Are you waking up a lot at night?
K: Not a lot. I will get up like once to go to the bathroom, but I have always been a deep sleeper. I have always slept really well so that hasn’t changed.
N: So it is kind of like slow motion?
K: Yeah totally.
N: What about the day time.
K: It is pretty weird because the days go really slow too, because like we went to Idaho for this Nike trip and it was a ton of fun, so I thought that would speed things up, but it really didn’t it still went pretty slow, which is kind of cool because we were having so much fun.
N: What about your daily routine now that you are home.
K: Yeah there is a daily program, but as you can see I am not doing anything today because I am hanging out with you guys, so it has mellowed out a lot. When I was in Craig, the rehab hospital, I would do rehab from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, 7 days a week, never a break, never time off, never anything. That was pretty crazy doing it that much, I never tried to rebel against it or say I wasn’t going to go. Now back here at home it is usually like once a day.
Adam: He does occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy so it can be three classes a day.
K: Yeah three classes a day and he comes to all of them with me so that is fun, just to have someone I like to be there is great. Adam drives everywhere.
Adam: Kevin is still working on a lot of balance stuff and just getting stronger.
K: A lot of cognitive stuff, just getting the brain working, trying to remember things, my memory is still really bad, so just trying to work on that, a lot of stuff.
It is obvious that Kevin has lost a lot of his memories even from his childhood. He remembers events of importance but has trouble to remember the order things happened. When we spoke about his trip to Japan he remembers the ASAHIDAKE trip because he had so much fun riding powder with Nicolas Muller, but he doesn’t remember much about the Toyota Big Air contest right after that filming trip. It strikes me how selective the human memory can be. Kevin remembers playing in a sandbox with his brothers, but he has no trouble with his favorite Japanese candy, Hi-Chu’s”. Obviously fun memories seem to have stayed with him much more.
N: So this is a new house for you, you just moved in here.
K: No this is the house we started in, we lived here until I was in third grade. My brothers and I are all Dyslexic. My Dad is dyslexic, our older brother Andrew is dyslexic and then David the one in between me and Adam has downs syndrome. So the school here was not good at all and our mom was really into getting us into a good school, so we moved about 20 minutes away where “the barn” is and that is where we have been for the last 15 or 20 years. We weren’t really into moving, but then when we did we were really happy over there. As you can see here we are really in the middle of nowhere and there we are right in town.
At this point we decide to go visit “The Barn” where the brothers all grew up together. I climb into the back of Adam’s truck for the 15 minute ride to their former house. There is a single story family house and separate from that is a large converted barn. Originally part of a farm, the barn was still filled with hay when they moved in. Soon they had built a loft and three separate bedrooms for the brothers. The walls are covered in a variety of snowboard related gear and memorabilia. Classic snowboards including Kevin’s very first snowboard a custom creation from Jake Burton himself. There are lots of banners from a selection of contests like the US OPEN. Kevin tells me how most of the banners were snatched on late night missions under cover of darkness with a pair of scissors. After many years of snatching banners, Burton finally just started giving them the big banners outright. Now with all the brothers grown and Kevin’s injury to deal with, the barn and house have been sold. All their stuff still sits there but it is a matter of time before they have to take those banners down and box everything up. The brothers look a little sad as they walk around the barn. Obviously there are uncountable memories they will be leaving behind. Then again Kevin has already left a lot of memories behind.
N: Obviously you have had an amazing amount of support from your family, what are your memories of your brother being with you at the hospital.
K: Yeah I think I have had so much support from all the fans of course but even more than that is the amount of support I have had from my family. They have been with me everyday, somebody was with me everyday at the hospital. They have taken a few days off, but that is it. The hospital food wasn’t very good so they brought me dinner and lunch every night, so that was amazing for me. I have a lot of good memories because Adam and me get along so well that it has been cool to have him there with me the whole time.
I am also very close with my parents so that has been super nice to have them around, I am glad we don’t argue and stuff. I think that is the main part of why I am doing so well right now and why I feel so good. Some of my fondest memories of Adam are of all the therapies I go to with him. Everyday he is taking me to some kind of therapy. He does the physical therapy with me and the cognitive therapy with me. He kind of sits in on all of them with me and it makes it so much more fun for me.
N: You got the buddy system going on. Were you guys always close or did you fight as kids.
K: No we have always been tight, but this has brought it to a whole new level.
N: How about the Frends crew, you guys are a very tight crew.
K: Yeah we still are super tight, but it has been kind of hard for them because they are super busy and traveling a lot, but they definitely came and hung out with me a bunch but they have been so busy.
Adam: I think it was hard too because at the time when Kevin got hurt snowboarding season was full on and Kevin never really got to witness how much support and energy they were bringing to him and that was really good to see.
N: What did you think of the whole “I ride for Kevin” thing.
K: Yeah that is just crazy how much that has caught on and how many people know about that. We would be driving around Denver and we would see stickers on the back of people’s cars. That was the craziest thing how big that has become and how much people are still into it. It is almost like Lance Armstrong’s “Live Strong” thing Not even close to that big, but it has caught on in the same way.
Now the next thing is to make a documentary about it all I think that is going to be really awesome to get those pictures out and to show people what really happened and why they have been helping me in such a big way. Because unless you have had a traumatic brain injury or have witnessed something like that you have no idea what I have been through. I look so good now, it is hard to believe that all these people are still supporting me and they have no idea what really happened. Everyone knows I got in a very serious accident and almost died, but besides that…
I have seen at some of the contests at the bottom of the pipe everyone had some kind of sign about me and that was really cool to see.
N: So you do remember watching the Olympics?
K: Yeah I do remember that, You know how I talked about remembering stuff that matters to me, and obviously that was a monumental moment for me.
I remember watching the Olympics on TV and that was really hard for me but it was cool to see how well Scotty did, and it was such a crazy contest it was cool to watch.
N: So what hit you when you walked in the door here at home, and how have you changed in the last 5 months since you got home.
K: You know that is the crazy thing because I feel exactly the same as when I got home. I can’t tell that I am getting better. People who come and see me and then come back three weeks or a month later with say, “oh my God Kevin has changed so much”. But it is so weird for me because I don’t feel like I have changed at all. I can see my balance getting better and stuff like that.
But I was so excited to get home, I was getting to my breaking point out at that hospital. Then being back here was the nicest thing ever, just getting to be with all my friends and family.
N: There was a big party thrown for you somewhere right.
K: Yeah there was a big party at the green which is a park near our house and a ton of people came out for that. Probably like two or three hundred people came out for that. It is was cool to see the amount of support the town has shown me.
It was really fun, and then after the party we had all the Burton people and sponsors come around to our house so that was really nice too.
N: You said in another interview how you understood the risks you signed up for when you became a pro snowboarder, do you still feel that way?
K: Yes totally I feel where the sport has gotten to and how dangerous some of the tricks are you have to kind of understand that is the risk you are taking, doing these double corks and these crazy tricks, you have to realize the risk you are taking.
I am going to try and put out an awareness about helmets because they said I would be dead if I didn’t have a helmet on. So just to let people know the importance of that. It is so easy and mellow to wear a helmet, especially when things are this dangerous at this level. It is insane to me to think that some people won’t wear a helmet.
N: At this point are you even thinking about snowboarding again this coming winter?
K: yeah that is a pretty exciting thing for me at this point. I am in this kind of shape where I know I will get to snowboard again, I am not sure what point during the winter it will be. So many of the people I have talked to could never even dream of getting to do something like this. This one kid who goes to the same hospital I do. He was walking down the stairs at his college here in Vermont and he fell down and hit his head and now he still can’t even talk and that was 5 years ago. So the amount of luck I have had to be back at this level and knowing that I will be able to snowboard again. it is obviously going to start off really mellow, but I am just excited to see how I am going to feel on a snowboard again. I really have no idea how I am going to feel.
Do you know the skier CR Johnston? He had a traumatic Brain injury and he recovered and actually skied and competed again and was even winning contests and unfortunately this last season he was skiing in Squaw Valley and had a freak accident and hit his head again and died. But just to hear how well he was doing has given me a lot of confidence and hope.
As we talk and walk around the Pearce Brothers barn I get to see first hand some of the improvements Kevin is making. There is a ping Pong table in the middle of the living room and Kevin and Adam start casually playing. Kevin has no problem returning Adams shots. They play fast and Kevin even mixes in a smash shot. Adam wonders aloud “I don’t know how he can even see the ball”
Kevin smiles and shows us his first ever snowboard along side dozens of trophies and snowboard gear. There is a brand new Volcom suit laying on a chair still wrapped in plastic. “I wonder while they sent me a suit to wear” Kevin says.
A documentary film is in the works with Kevins brother Adam leading the way shooting footage of Kevin’s recovery and rehabilitation. Adam tells me that they are searching for the right director and financing right now, with the goal in mind to have the film ready to show at the Sundance Film Festival next year. This family has been through so much together I take it as their way to share the inner experience and maybe also pay back all the support that they have been shown.
Kevin spots the dart board on the far wall and strides to it with confidence. “Last time I tried to play darts I couldn’t even hit the board” He lines up his first shot, a solid hit on the board. He second shot bounces off the wall and onto the ground. “Dang” He concentrates on the first shot, “Bullseye!” “Adam, did you see that?, a bulls eye shot, boy I am getting better”
Special thanks to @KojiIshihara for setting up this trip and interview and thanks to Trans-World Japan @Daisnow for the opportunity!