Eric Le Marque has always been looking for that next big thrill, a mentality that made him a professional athlete, but also cost him his legs.
This thirst for adrenaline came to a destructive head when the former NMU and Olympic hockey player found himself using crystal meth after trading in his skates for a snowboard and partying. It was a decision that landed him in the middle of an intense storm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Le Marque said that his amateur meteorology skills unknowingly landed him in a life threatening situation.
“I thought this was going to be a good locker room story. I was wrong.” he said. “The mountain was coming to kill me and I could feel its breath.”
Le Marque spoke of this life altering event to an audience in the Great Lakes Room this past Monday, Nov. 2, and has written about how the ordeal has changed him in his book “Crystal Clear.”
Le Marque decided to go up the mountain after hearing from a weather report that there was fresh snow to ride on the Dragon’s Back run. He admits that his passion for pushing his snowboarding skills to a professional level is what got him into trouble.
“All I knew was how to compete,” he said. “I thought nothing was going to overtake me.”
The next thing Le Marque remembers is being buried chest high in snow, alone, and realizing that he forgot not only his torch lighter, but his radio as well. These errors of judgment lead him on a desperate quest for survival at 12,000 feet and inspired him to change his ways.
“I led a selfish life until I had to climb out of hell one step at a time,” he said, “I pushed the walls [limits] and went right on through.”
Le Marque said the eight days of struggling against the harsh winter elements challenged him in ways he couldn’t ever have imagined. This included battling altitude sickness, drug withdrawals, and a shortage of both food and ways of staying hydrated.
“It almost made my mouth water when I had to pee,” he said.
Le Marque was nicknamed “The Miracle Man” by members of the National Guard helicopter rescue team after they located him due to the white noise emitting from the radio on his MP3 player. Le Marque had lost 40 pounds and was in a state of bewilderment when he initially spotted the National Guard member.
“The first thing I noticed was his snowshoes,” Le Marque said, “I could have used those.”
Le Marque feels NMU students can learn a lot from his experience about how to properly face obstacles in their futures.
“No matter what situation you are in, it is how you look at it,” he said. “Don’t let challenges change you, fight through them; they make you a better person.”
Matt Haataja, said he found a better outlook on life after hearing a fellow Wildcat’s success story.
“It shows there is no point in giving up even after going eight days without food or anything,” he said. “It just shows that someone from the middle of nowhere can still go on and do great things.”
Le Marque is currently planning to turn his survival story into a feature length film. He and his wife Hope have worked together on a manuscript after the surprise success his book has received.
“I never thought I would become an author,” he said. “But now I’m slowly becoming a writer.”
Le Marque feels he can attribute his survival on the mountain to lessons that he learned from people while attending NMU, including character skills he picked up from head hockey coach Walt Kyle and courses he took to better understand nature.
“There is something about the people here,” he said. “They know how to deal with the cold and they have helped me in both my career and helping me survive those eight days.”