Eric LeMarque: A Survivor's Story
By Tim Branson
The 700 Club
"I remember falling back into the snow, looking at my feet and going, 'You’re going to lose your feet. The next thought was, 'You’re not as tough as you think you are.'"
Eric LeMarque was more than tough, he was hockey tough. He spent most of his life on the ice, with one goal in mind.
"Once I got into the rink and just had the taste and smell of it, it was forever in my blood and I forever was going to be a professional hockey player," Eric tells The 700 Club.
After two years in the Minors, he went pro in Europe. With a dual citizenship, he played in the '94 Olympics for France.
Like all pro athletes, Eric’s career came to a close. He got a job at a sporting goods company, but without the routine and excitement of hockey, he found other things to get the high he once got on the ice – including drugs like crystal meth…
"It made me feel so euphoric, gave me this incredible surge of energy, an incredible lift, and high. Meth affected my judgment. I isolated myself from my family, my friends and did my own thing when I wanted to, how I wanted to, who I wanted to do with and nothing else mattered but me."
Then Eric developed another addiction.
"Snowboarding to me became my passion. It became something that I lived for and something that I became very selfish with where I was willing to sacrifice my output for work."
As it turned out, he sacrificed even more. Eric had been snowboarding on California’s mammoth mountain when an approaching storm forced the ski patrol to shut down the slopes.
"I noticed skI patrol was out there ushering people off the west side of the mountain."
Eric chose to ignore the ski patrol’s warning; he was determined to take one last ride. That decision led him into a living hell he could never have imagined.
"I hiked up to a run. A big mistake that I made is that I knew that I was riding down into fog. Once I got down and I hit the fog, it was like I opened the door to a third another world."
But in the fog Eric took a wrong turn and headed into the wilderness. Now he was lost and had to spend the night. He recalls, "I didn’t sleep a wink. I sat there shivering, and the shivers didn’t end until I was off the mountain.
"My plan the second day is to walk down. I know that maybe I can follow my tracks back. I hear water, and I was drawn to it. So I figured I’m going to drink here. I’ve got maybe about a mile, a half mile to hike towards Tamarack Lodge."
After Eric drank from the river, he remembered he had a bag of meth.
"I sat there with my emotions. Do I take the rest of this meth and follow my tracks back out or is that going to put me in a worse situation?"
At that critical moment, he dumped the meth out on the snow. Then, he went for one last drink.
"[I] Put my hand on rock and took biggest drink that I could. The ledge I was on gave way and now I found myself in the river being pulled down. I fought over and got to the side of the river. So, now I was in an environment where it was freezing cold but completely soaked. I just stripped down and basically just did what I called the fire dance."
Eric put his damp clothes back on. He made little progress before nightfall.
"I climbed up on this rock cliff, went on the other side and slept on a ledge."
By the next morning, the sub-zero temperatures had taken a heavy toll.
"Now time to face what the facts were that I couldn’t feel my feet anymore. I realized how much trouble I was in, because when I took my socks off, my feet were black and purple."
Eric pressed on, going farther away from help. He says, "Hiked and hiked and hiked and made about seven miles this day, and it's like God came and scooped out the sky. Now it was just clear. I could see everythying. I thought, 'I'm one ridge too far south, and now I am faced with this giant mountain range that I have to get up and over.'"
Eric had gone nine miles off course. For the next three days, he inched his way up the mountain.
"I was pulling my legs out of the snow. I was trying to dig my board and pull myself up for only the snow to give way and come back down like a fish out of water."
He slept in snow caves he carved for shelter. His reserves exhausted and his feet like blocks of ice, he refused to give up.
"I said, 'I have to take at least 10 steps.' That is why I took my 10 steps. I would sleep for an hour. I would sleep for two hours. My body had given way to a skeletal type frame now. I lost so much mass and my energy was just gone. The hunger pains were there, but now I started to have some delusional feelings and dreams. I'm like turning around really quick like, 'Who's there?' I could have sworn it was the grim reaper just looking at me and laughing at me. This day I started to pray, I prayed that somebody knew that I was gone."
That someone lived five hours away in Los Angeles. It was his mother, Susan LeMarque. She had become worried when Eric didn't return her phone calls.
Susan says, "I knew something was terribly wrong. I went outside, and it was pitch black. I just screamed. I just screamed."
Susan convinced Eric's father and a friend to go to the authorities in Mammoth. They confirmed that her son was missing.
"I could hear in their voices the panic and the fear," Susan says. "I just kept crying and screaming, 'God, please watch over him. No matter what, just let him be alive."
The search for Eric had begun. Meanwhile, Eric had climbed within 10 steps of the ridge, but now he needed rest.
"I slept and I slept in very crude shelter that night. I sleep through the sixth night. I slept through the entire seventh night in one spot, which was 10 steps from over looking the top of the mountain."
Then Eric woke up and turned on his MP3 radio. He says, "I heard that search and rescue is brought in to do a body revovery on Eric LeMarque who's been out in the mountains for a week now. I said, 'No matter even if I had to crawl on my hands and knees, I was not going to give up. There is no way I am going to let my parents bury me.'"
But something was wrong.
"I kept falling asleep as I was doing things and I realized, 'You are dying of hypothermia, because you just want to fall asleep and stay asleep.'"
Back in Los Angeles, his mother waited and prayed. Then finally a breakthrough...
Susan says, "Screaming in the phone, 'There's hope! There's hope! They found something. He's out there and they know where to look.'"
"All of a sudden I just hear a chopper going past me," Eric says. "Immediately as I fell to my knees, I remember the chopper hovering. It was loud."
After eight days on the mountain, he was found.
"The one thought that was prevailing was I was going to go back to every relationship that's worth something [and make it] mean something now. I'm going to restore everything that's been broken."
Eric wasn't out of danger yet.
"His body temperature was 86 degrees. He was severely dehydrated and had lost 40 pounds," Susan says. "The worse news of all, both feet would have to be amputated."
"These are the feet that took me around the world," he says, "that helped me achieve all the talents, skills wordly dreams. So immediately I clung to them as long as I could, and I wept."
Dealing with the loss of his feet and regaining his health was a long process for Eric. He also came to terms with his drug addiction, but he learned that he couldn't do it by himself. He had to depend on God for his strength.
"I went to church in a wheelchair. I got up on my knees. I started giving God praise and asked the Lord to come into my heart and really received it. From there, it just changed my life."
That gave Eric new purpose for his life.
"The longest anyone had survived had been two nights out in those conditions," he says. "I survived seven, and there's a reason that I am here. I am now here to glorify God. I just found a praise in my heart. I just found a transformation."
Eric is now married with two sons. He hasn't touched drugs since, and in fact, he still loves to snowboard. If there's anything he learned from his experience, it's this...
"If you don't have Christ, you're missing out. You're missing out on really living your life, because I'm a person with no feet. I'm a person who's achieved worldly dreams and all of those were a shadow without Christ. Now that I have Christ, I feel alive. I feel like I can run. I feel like I can dance, and I feel like I’m a richer man."
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