Dubbed ‘The Miracle Man’ by the National Guard rescuers, the story of Eric LeMarque and how he survived being lost in the snow on Mammoth Mountain for eight days, is a fascinating story of survival, determination and the belief that something bigger than us has a hand in all that happens.
In the film 6 Below (released in Australia, 21st February, 2018), Eric’s story is brought to life with an outstanding cast including Josh Hartnett (Pearl Harbour) as LeMarque, and Mira Sorvino (Mothers and Daughters) as his mother, Susan. In extraordinary scenes of harrowing conditions, incredible snowscape footage and some very cool snowboarding skills, we see how the events and challenges throughout LeMarque’s life had lead up to this moment, ensuring he was mentally and physically equipped to help him survive, even at the edge of death. We are given a glimpse into the incredibly hard terrain and the extents LeMarque had to endure to eventually find freedom and rescue.
A former Olympic Hockey player, LeMarque had achieved successes beyond many people’s capabilities or dreams. Driven as a child to work hard and play hard, his drive reaped its rewards into his adult years, with his natural sporting abilities and key people in his life taking him to the realms of greatness.
With this level of performance, LeMarque had also been drawn into a celebrity lifestyle of hard partying which saw him quickly gain a dependency on drugs, namely methamphetamine, which began to take over his life. Giving him a similar adrenaline rush as he had grown used to on the ice hockey rinks, his dependency became an addiction, and so did his new found love for extreme snowboarding.
Chasing the next clean sheet of snowfall after a big storm, LeMarque headed to the snow fields one morning completely unaware of what was to come. The drugs had adversely affected his thought processes and LeMarque found himself stranded on a mountain in a snow storm, disorientated and with only four pieces of bazooka gum, a small bag of meth, a twenty dollar bill in his pocket, and wearing only thinly lined snow gear in order to gain more manoeuvrability on his snow board. There was little to zero chance that anyone in his position would survive what was about to take place.
The film takes us through the days that follow, the extreme measures he takes to survive and the unforeseen mishaps, life-threatening dangers and eventually a heart-stopping rescue.
LeMarque reflects on the mountains that followed:
In a recent interview with LeMarque, I was privileged to chat with him and learn a little of what he went through on the mountain and in the months and years to follow. Having had a bi-lateral BKA (Below Knee) amputation due to frostbite, LeMarque says the challenges that lay before him after his rescue were more difficult than the eight days spent lost on the mountain.
“The bigger mountains were the ones I faced after,” he says. “Dealing with the loss of my olympic professional athletic legs—that was a huge mountain. It took me years to get over that. I had to learn how to forgive myself for putting myself as an experienced athlete and an experienced outdoorsman, into a situation that changed my life and also for making poor choices too… I had to learn to put the boy to bed, and then the man in me started to finally ask for help.”
Losing everything but finding more
LeMarque came to know God in the months and years that followed. Lying in the hospital bed, surrounded by hospital walls, LeMarque reflects on the sight of seeing a flat sheet where once his athletic feet and lower legs would have been. It was the thing that meant the most to him and he comments on how sometimes it’s the things you love the most that you have to let go of before you can see what really matters.
“I’ve been humbled, and I’ve had to go to this depth before I realised why I need to live for God. [Learning] not only who I am, but whose I am.”
Having had all else stripped away, LeMarque says his heart was finally in the right place. “I said, ‘all right God, I’m gonna press into you with all of me, without doubt, with a childlike faith’, and he [God] not only showed up but he shows off and he still shows off today.”
The task of reinventing himself
After losing his lower legs and feet, LeMarque was faced with the task of reinventing himself and humbly took an entry level job with an IT company which he now runs.
“I’m entering the third phase of my life,” says LeMarque. “The first phase was Eric LeMarque: the athlete; the second phase was Eric LeMarque: the IT director of operations; and now I’m going into my third phase and I want to speak and share my testimony.”
When I asked him where he thought he would be if he hadn’t gone through the trial on the mountain, his response was: “I likely would have been dead.”
Previous to his ordeal, his brain had already shown signs of malfunctioning. He describes surfing on the net one day and pausing to pick his beer up. His brain was sending the signal but his body wasn’t responding. He knew in this moment that the chemicals in the drugs he had been taking were beginning to eat holes in his brain. It was a downward spiral and although he intended to kick the habit sometime in the future, he did not know if it had already reached its hooks into him to a point of no return.
Remembering how his coaches had worked him hard and taught him that hard work was required for success, LeMarque reflects: “what I wouldn’t have loved to have had the Spirit of God living in me and having Jesus as my comforter and my best friend and doing everything that God gifted me with for His glory first.”
LeMarque found that God was always there for him and attentive, providing unconditional love and immediate grace and forgiveness.
Where to now?
“My focus is on the gospel of Jesus Christ, on the good news, on making sure that I’m studied approved, making sure that I’m prayed up and I’m covering my family and I’m taking care of that which I have been given so that I can be given more”
LeMarque is now a motivational speaker, sharing his story and testimony with others, and looks forward to coming to Australia someday.
“My main message is this, in every situation, in everything that happens to you in life, you have two choices: you can take it head on and you’re going to see all the fear and feel all the fear that comes with that and that’s going to lead to death; or you can shift your focus on the things of faith. The things of faith can be small and even appreciative things like: I have a job; I have a car that works; the palm trees are beautiful with the wind and the way the sun is hitting that…”