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Olympics dreams lost, but snowboarder stays strong

VANCOUVER – Every now and then, you meet an individual or a family that is so special that they stop you in your tracks. As a journalist, you try to step back and not get too close, try not to get sucked right into what makes them so special. Snowboarder Kevin Pearce, his parents, Simon and Pia Pearce, and his brothers are just that kind of family.

One would think that having a father who is a world renowned glass-blower, artist, owner and operator of the Simon Pearce chain of stores and restaurants would be special enough; or having a mother who has written a top selling cookbook or an uncle who is the new Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr.

However, upon meeting Kevin and his family in their hometown of Norwich, Vermont, none of these things are as impressive as the closeness of this family and the relationships between the brothers.

VIDEO: Family, spirit and miracles helping snowboarder Kevin Pearce heal

Olympic dreams shattered

You may have seen Kevin Tibbles' story on Nightly News on Monday night about Kevin and the terrible snowboarding training accident that nearly took his life on New Year's Eve on a half-pipe in Utah. We've been following Kevin and his family for a little while now and can only hope our story did the family a little justice.

Kevin is a 22-year-old snowboarder, who has beaten the now legendary Shaun White twice in the last few years. He was a favorite to make a very strong U.S. Olympic team and was considered by many to be one of the few who had a chance to take White's place on the snowboarding circuit.

To say that Kevin is a low-key, modest, grounded young man would be quite an understatement. His relationship with his older brother David, who has Down's Syndrome, and is a Special Olympics ski champion, is remarkable to see. Kevin calls David his inspiration.

On News Year's Eve, Kevin suffered severe brain trauma in Park City Utah, after slamming his head on the edge of the half-pipe. He was airlifted to the University of Utah hospital where he was touch and go. His family rushed across the country to be at his side. His brother Adam has slept in his room nearly every night since.

'Nothing short of a miracle'

Just over a month later, Kevin has now been transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver, a world renowned rehabilitation hospital. Simon and Pia were kind enough to invite us out for an interview the day after Kevin was brought to Denver nearly two weeks ago.

His transfer is an indication of the progress Kevin has made, but as you can imagine, Kevin has a long way to go. His mother says the doctors are amazed at his progress. "They told me that they really feel that Kevin's recovery is nothing short of a miracle. I really believe that the people who have worked with him are part of that miracle."

He is now beginning to speak again. He is learning to walk with assistance, yet his vision is impaired from the accident. Still, his parents say that that his spirit and his low-key, but determined, attitude hasn't changed a bit.

"He is the exact sweet self that he's always been," said his mother. "He's just kind of getting back into doing all the stuff that he needs to learn. And he's smiling!"

Kevin, his parents, and his doctors all watched our Nightly News broadcast in the hospital Monday night. It's just another sign that Kevin is moving forward.

According to Pia, his brother David cried with joy back in Vermont watching the segment at the thought of coming out to see Kevin. David was scheduled to arrive in Denver on Tuesday to see his younger brother for the first time since the accident.

"He's going to wrap his arms around Kevin and put yet another big smile on Kevin's face. We can't wait," said his other brother Adam.

Grateful for every day
The first question Kevin asked his doctors when he was able to speak again was when and if he will ever be able to snowboard again.

Neither his doctors nor his parents have an answer.

"I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the future right now. I'm incredibly grateful to have him where he is right now," said Simon, his father. "If he never snowboards again, that's fine with me. I wouldn't put it past him either."

Pia feels the same. "My hope is that Kevin can just reach whatever potential is possible for him. I have total and complete confidence that he will do that. I am so optimistic."

While it's far too easy to gloss over the challenges Kevin faces, it's hard not to think that with a family this special around him, Kevin will continue to make great strides.

As for the rest of the Pearce family, they appear ready for the fight as well.

"I know we won't look back on this as an awful period in our lives. I think we'll look back on it as actually a very powerful period because it has brought our family even closer together," said Simon.

You can send your wishes to Kevin Pearce's Facebook account. A special "I Ride for Kevin" section has been set up.