Story of Olympic athlete dubbed Miracle Man will be played on screen by Josh Hartnett
Eric LeMarque was a former Olympian and professional hockey player but suffered a painful fall due to crystal meth addiction and then lost both legs when a snowboarding trip went horribly wrong
By Eric LeMarque
Original Source: mirror.co.uk
This is the story of a near death experience. It’s a story of addiction, but it’s more than that.
It’s also about how you sometimes have to lose part of yourself, maybe even the part you love the most, before you can really know what makes you whole.
It’s a story about how finding your strength can come from reaching the limits of your endurance. About finding out if you never quit you will win.
Until I survived an ordeal that would strip away every false assumption and easy belief I ever had, I thought I knew who I was. And as far back as I can remember, a big part of that identity had been about my feet.
That may sound weird. If most people were asked to single out their most important asset, they usually talk about their character and integrity; their mind, or their heart or even their face. But for me, it was my feet.
They carried me to victory after victory in my life, racking up one achievement after another.
My footwork was what had earned me a place on the Boston Bruins line-up in the National (Ice) Hockey League, the thrill of winning several World Championships and the opportunity to play in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.
Everything I accomplished as an athlete – and I accomplished a lot from a very young age – involved my feet in one way or another.
Even on the slopes, as an expert rider, it was my feet that conveyed to me the sensations of soaring, gliding and jumping.
They allowed me to master the terrain I was negotiating on every run, to make the split second adjustments and last minute decisions that gave snowboarding its instinctive and spontaneous thrill. They were what kept me grounded and allowed me to soar.
Like most of us, I took my body, and all its parts, for granted. I expected it to be there when I needed it and perform as required.
But it’s also true that my personal performance standards were very high. The fact is that my physical abilities – the athletic ability I was born with, defined who I was, to myself and to others. It seemed that I had a knack for anything I tried, starting with skating and hockey, up through baseball, basketball, football, surfing, even golf.
And, of course, snowboarding — riding — which was a sport I excelled in above all others. With all of them, it was my feet that led the way to some of the most triumphant, memorable and exciting moments of my life.
I never imagined what that life might be like without my feet. Who could? The only time you may notice your feet is when they get sweaty or smelly or dog-tired.
You flex your ankles and wiggle your toes without thinking about it. They are an extension of us, the way we get around in this world and without them, the horizons of that world can shrink to nothing.
That’s what happened to me. I lost my feet, eight inches below the knee, and my world was suddenly reduced to the four walls of a hospital room. Through a combination of over-confidence and poor judgment, brought on by my meth addiction, I allowed my feet to freeze.
When I realized what was happening, I did everything I could to reverse the process. But it was too late.
The parts of my body that had taken me so far, so fast, were dead. And if they weren’t cut away from me, I would have died also.
For once in my life, I had no choice. But that didn’t make the decision any easier. I’d be lying if I said that there haven’t been times since, in my darkest hours, when I regretted that decision, times when death seemed preferable to what I had to endure.
There was a time when I would have traded everything for a pair of thick dry socks or a cup of hot soup.
My near death experience
Late in the afternoon of February 6, 2004, I was getting ready my last run of the day down Mammoth Mountain in California’s Sierra Nevada range.
I had purposely moved off the main trails in search of the fresh powder recently dumped by a big winter storm and not yet traversed by the hordes of skiers and snowboarders who flock to the slopes every season.
I found what I was looking for in a remote area called Dragon’s Back, where I delved off a big hit right at Beyond The Edge, on the eastern flank of the mountain. I’d packed light that day, expecting to be back, soaking in the hot tub of the apartment I had borrowed, just before night fell.
I had a ski jacket and pants with the linings removed to maximize my manoeuvrability and in my pockets I carried four pieces of Bazooka bubblegum, a cell phone with a dying battery, my MP-3 player and a small plastic Zip Loc bag with about a half-gram of speed.
As I stood on the spine of Beyond The Edge, scoping out the territory, I glanced east to see a solid wall of storm clouds heading my way. It was engulfing everything, consuming the vast range around me in angry grey clouds. Judging from its speed and intensity I knew it would overtake me in a matter of minutes. No problem. That was just enough time for one final run…
Eight days later, a National Guard Black Hawk helicopter dropped a rescue harness onto the snow bound summit slope of the mountain to pull me to safety.
My body temperature was 86F. I had lost forty-five pounds. I had eaten nothing but cedar bark and pine seeds for over a week. I had endured nighttime wind chill factors of twenty below. I was stalked by wolves, slept in snowfields with no shelter, fell into a raging river and was nearly swept over an eighty foot waterfall.
I had survived in those conditions longer than anybody else on record. They called me The Miracle Man.
They don’t know the half of it.
During those eight days I went from extremes of hope and despair; expectation and disappointment; fear and courage.
The physical tribulations that I endured were matched by the emotional highs and lows that swept over me from day to day and even hour to hour.
As I was withdrawing from one kind of powder — meth — I was learning a whole new respect for the other kind of powder — the snow that I struggled through, sometimes waist deep, sometimes chest deep. I fought for my life to the extreme limits of my own strength.
I’ve heard that there are separate stages to the process of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, etc.I’ve gone through most of those stages as I’ve experienced the death of the life I used to live and the man I used to be. It hasn’t been easy and on more than a few days the most urgent question I ask myself is: why me?
Adjusting to life without my feet, to performing the daily tasks that we all take for granted, has been, in it’s own way, every bit as challenging as the eight days I spent lost in the frozen wilderness.
I’m reminded of that every time I have to crawl on my hands and knees to the toilet in the middle of the night.
I’ve said that this isn’t just an addiction story. But it’s not just a survival story, either. In one way, what happened to me up on that mountain was totally unexpected. I was thrown into the middle of a do-or-die situation, unprepared for nature at her most unforgiving. I had been using speed for months and, even though I knew what it was doing to me, I wasn’t quite ready to quit. As a result, I had compromised my objectivity and my ability to make sound decisions, not to mention my physical stamina. No one was more surprised than me to find out that I had put myself in a life-threatening situation. I was too experienced, too much of a pro to find myself this vulnerable and exposed.
When I retired there was a void in my life that was something bigger than my 6-foot view. My dreams were dead and I did not work through that and found temporary comfort in artificial highs that literally swept my legs out from under me.
Gate-way drugs led me into a full meth addiction within just a month and into an addict where every day for 8-months I was using poison to get through life. I lost my legs but fortunately did not kill anyone or myself.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, my whole story is one of extremes. I had lived my life purposely pushing the envelope until I finally pushed through. Those eight days on the mountain proved to me that my will to live was stronger than the reckless drive that fed my addictions.
My addictions to powder, to speed and to snow, were symptoms of a life out balance. What replaced them – an incredible wife and beautiful family – are the down payments on a future I never imagined could be mine.
I’m not addicted to powder anymore. I don’t do meth or any other drug, including painkillers, and even though I still enjoy the occasional snowboard run, it’s no longer an obsession.
These days, when I’m out on the slopes, I take a minute to remember what it was like during those eight dark days. That’s when I realize the truth behind the old saying: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
6 Below is in cinemas and On Demand now and 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain is available in paperback now
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