Years after being paralyzed in a backcountry accident on Vail Pass, Colorado sit skier Trevor Kennison finds redemption in ‘Full Circle’
He said ultimately, the accident changed his life for the better.
“You can look at an event like this negatively or positively,” said Kennison. “I took everything learned from playing sports and turned it into ‘How quick can I get into my wheelchair?’ ‘How quick can I learn how to go to the bathroom and shower?’ ‘How quick can I learn to ski again?’ I realized that if I wasn’t going to do it, no one’s going to do this for me. I really took that as motivation. This a new life. I knew that there would be challenges, and I accepted them.”
Six years later, he executed a double backflip at the exact spot of his accident. The feature-length documentary film, “Full Circle: A Story of Post Traumatic Growth,” directed by Josh Berman and produced by Denver-based Level 1 Production, documents that journey.
“Full Circle” is kicking off Carbondale-based 5Point Film’s Summer Film Series with two screenings: Tuesday at the Wheeler Opera House, and Wednesday at TACAW. Kennison will be at both events, which will include a Q&A after the film.
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Kennison, originally from New Hampshire, grew up a gifted all-around athlete and fell in love with Colorado when he was 12 on a family road trip across the Western states, which he called “the best experience of his life.” That trip, and the fact that his sister was living in the Roaring Fork Valley, inspired him to move to Avon when he was 21. Less than a year later, his life would change dramatically.
He said the first year after the accident was tough. After months at Denver’s Craig Hospital, he returned to New Hampshire and stayed with a friend, who took him in and let him sleep on the couch. But with the bathroom on the second floor, it wasn’t a long-term situation.
He credits his sister and brother-in-law, Ashley and Thomas Caruso, who lived in Snowmass, for getting him to a better place.
“They took me out for my first runs and got me involved with Challenge Aspen and other organizations, which was really cool,” he said. “But the first time was hard. After trying a few times, I finally got on a run, and I’m going down and going down and I’m just gripping the outriggers so hard, I couldn’t feel my forearms. And from there I was hooked. I was living in Aspen, and I was skiing Snowmass and Highlands with my brother-in-law snowboarding behind me every single day. That is why I became the sit skier I am today, because he gave me the confidence that I can try this and if I fall, he’s going to pick me up. For him to do that and watch me progress was just the best thing ever.”
The film has been in the works since before the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which Kennison called a blessing in disguise. When he initially approached Director Josh Berman about the project, the idea was to produce a three-part limited docuseries leading up to his attempt at the double backflip. But the pandemic gave the filmmakers time to flesh out a more robust story and connect Kinneson’s story with one that happened 50 years earlier.
“Full Circle” follows Trevor on his path of post-traumatic growth and concurrently the story of pioneer climber and extreme skier Barry Corbet, who became a paraplegic after a 1968 helicopter crash in Aspen.
Though 50 years apart, their stories mirror each other with common locations and themes — injuries in the Colorado backcountry, rehab at Craig Hospital, fame in Jackson Hole. But they also share a resiliency of spirit and refusal to let their love of life be diminished by their injuries. It’s ultimately a film about hope and not only surviving, but thriving through life’s most difficult challenges.
For Kennison who is just shy of his 31st birthday, he is grateful to be where he is today and said that not being afraid to ask for and accept help, as well as taking care of his mental health, ultimately got him through the dark days.
“I don’t care if you’re disabled or able-bodied, it’s just so important to work on your mental health. This injury so physical, but at the same time with a spinal cord injury, it’s also such a mental battle,” he said.
“What do I want audiences to take away? If someone is struggling or going through anything difficult, I just want to give them some hope. I went back and got redemption. And I am just so thankful for everyone that helped me get to where I am and for what’s to come. I can’t wait for people to see this movie. It’s going to change so many lives.”