In 2009, Kevin Pearce was at the height of his professional snowboarding career and bound for the Winter Olympics. But in an instant, it came to a halt when he suffered a devastating accident.
During training, he struck his head on the edge of a halfpipe, resulting in a traumatic brain injury. It changed the course of the then-22-year-old’s life.
He had to relearn how to walk and talk and essentially start over. His older brother Adam quit his job and moved across the country to help him through rehab.
“What I remember most, and the best thing I remember, hands down,” Kevin said, “is Adam being there and doing it all with me.”
He eventually started doing yoga, and his family saw how it transformed him and gave him a sense of hope.
“It was the first time I remember so clearly coming out of a class with him and just seeing in his face this new expression, this new person,” Adam Pearce said. “We were like, ‘We need to figure out why and how that just happened.’”
Traumatic brain injury affects the lives of millions of Americans each year, including many who are living with long-term TBI-related disabilities.
Wanting to bring hope and healing to others through yoga and meditation, Adam and Kevin co-founded the LoveYourBrain Foundation in 2014. The nonprofit offers weeklong retreats and community-based yoga classes across the United States for people who have a TBI as well as their caregivers.
“I think people feel isolated after brain injury because they don’t feel able, and when you don’t feel able, you generally retreat back inside,” Adam said. “At these retreats, people are given the space to lean into those deep challenges and express them and talk about them.”
Ultimately, the organization aims to create a safe space and supportive community where people with a TBI can heal together.
“Connection happens quickly because there’s such a shared common understanding among the group,” Adam said. “Once someone sees someone be vulnerable, it instantly allows the next person (to be). By the end, people start to see vulnerability as a superpower.”
The organization also trains yoga teachers, giving them knowledge on how to work with those who have a TBI, and works with hospitals to incorporate yoga into rehabilitation early on. To date, LoveYourBrain has reached more than 35,000 people.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought we’d be here almost 13 years later after Kevin’s accident,” Adam said. “What this has taught me is that trauma and adversity can be a powerful pathway for deeper learning and growth.”
CNN’s Meg Dunn spoke with Adam about his efforts. Below is an edited version of their conversation.
CNN: What was it like immediately after Kevin’s accident?
Adam: We basically spent the first month and a half in critical care. We really didn’t have an idea of what recovery or healing looked like at that time. I just kind of found myself saying, “This is where I have to be.” So, I spent a year by his side and really just focused on getting him better. I knew he was competitive, and I knew the games that would make him want to engage. So, we did that. And, as you can imagine, when you’re in rehab for eight, ten hours a day for six months straight, you need something to keep you going.
CNN: What changes did you see in Kevin after he started doing yoga?
Adam: After Kevin started to build a yoga practice into his life, the things that were most noticeable were confidence. So much of his self-confidence was taken away from him. But once he started doing a practice that gave him self-empowerment, he started just feeling more confident and in more control. He would come out of yoga class and you’d be like, “Oh, that’s the old Kevin.”
CNN: Why was it important to you to include caregivers in your organization’s programs?
Adam: It’s really important because oftentimes you can get so isolated in the way you’re caring for someone, or even how they’re thinking about what that person needs. When we expose caregivers in a setting with other caregivers and people with brain injuries, it allows us to challenge our own preconceived notions and just open our perspective to other ways of supporting people.
CNN: What impact does yoga have on someone with a TBI?
Adam: Brain injury impacts the whole body – the physical, the emotional, and the social. The unique part about yoga is that it also focuses on the whole person. It really gives people the ability to connect with the mind, connect with the body, and connect with the spirit. And I think it’s an incredible pathway to healing. Oftentimes our medical system has us thinking that someone else can fix us. And I think there is so much more that we can do for ourselves.
Want to get involved? Check out the LoveYourBrain Foundation website and see how to help.
To donate to the LoveYourBrain Foundation via GoFundMe, click here