The Crash Reel is Still One of the Best Winter Sports Documentaries of all Time

Crash Reel is an honest portrayal of disability, as well as a stunning tribute to activism.


Kevin Pearce is probably the greatest snowboarder ever who was denied the chance to fulfil his potential. As Pearce was training in 2009 for the Winter Olympics the next year, with his eyes firmly set on the gold medal, he crashed and was left with a traumatic brain injury. His road to recovery was documented throughout the incredible Crash Reel.

The documentary is a raw, honest and unfiltered take on the reality behind experiencing a disability that means that many of your aspirations are suddenly impossible. That’s not to say the documentary isn’t empowering – it most certainly is. While Pearce is shown as struggling to come to terms with the reality of this new stage in his life, almost immediately he begins working towards raising awareness of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

Crash Reel explores the dangers of winter sports and extreme sports, from dirt bikes to skiing and snowboarding – there is a deep and uncomfortable look at the dangers that sportspeople go through in pursuit of their goals. Sports fans are plagued with moral questions. While people must be allowed to pursue the sports they love and choose to do, how do we make them safer? Is there a way to stop people dying or experiencing severe injuries? The documentary doesn’t really answer these questions, because the sports themselves don’t yet have the answers. However, awareness is raised throughout.

“Sports fans are plagued with moral questions”

While danger is accepted as the norm, it really shouldn’t be. We see Pearce’s main rival – Shaun White – wrestle with his career without Pearce shadowing, and we also see White come very close to experiencing severe injury himself.

Yet, there is empowerment and acceptance throughout of disability. Kevin’s brother, David, expresses frustration about his Down’s Syndrome but it is aimed at society’s misunderstanding as much as anything. David has followed his brothers, and entered snowboarding. But this is not a tale of disabled people being inspiration fodder. Kevin struggles to compete, and in the years to follow, decides not to compete as he will never be at the same level he was. There is regret in the decision, that is clear through the screen but disability can be uncomfortable. It is not about perseverance at all costs. It’s about self-love in a society that doesn’t understand and often makes life more difficult.

Since his accident, Pearce has co-founded ‘Love Your Brain’, a charity working towards raising awareness of TBIs, preventing brain injuries and promoting brain health. It is an example of incredible activism. Disability is complex – not just regarding management, but about how others perceive it. Crash Reel became one of the few documentaries that gave disability the complex and honest approach it deserves. The Winter Olympics should be enjoyed by everyone this year. They showcase some of the greatest sporting talent in the world. But let’s also not forget the dangers that come with the sport, and the people working to try and make it safer. This is the activism many sports need.

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