Eric LeMarque was once an Olympian, a great hockey player, a man living on the edge of the professional sports world. After addictions and struggles on and off the ice derailed his career, he found himself snowboarding alone in the Sierra Nevada mountains before a series of events left him stranded. After a week alone in the wild, he emerged a different man, in dangerous physical condition but spiritually more alive. LeMarque now serves as a producer on his own story, 6 Below, opening in theaters on October 12 and VOD on October 13.
LeMarque now runs an IT software company, but God seems to be turning LeMarque back to his own story, as he’s called more and more frequently to share it around the country. As a former professional athlete who survived a horrific set of experiences, he’s someone that others idolize, even as he realizes that the sport he loved also became an idol. Somehow, it’s that sport that also helped save LeMarque’s life on the snowboarding slopes.
“Hockey taught me to overcome adversity,” he shared. “Even if we were losing 6-0, we knew that we should fight to win the last shift, to leave with our heads high. Hockey was always a series of failures, where you kept fighting through to find a chance for a shot on goal.”
The same player who fired five hundred shots at his bedroom door, intend on finally chipping it down to matchsticks, found that the incessant training of his childhood gave him the mentality to believe he could survive without food and water in isolation. His stepdad’s tough, hard individualized coaching, his experience of his own parents’ arguments, all of these play out in flashbacks throughout the movie - and serve as building blocks for who he became.
“The film shows it pretty accurately,” LeMarque mused. “While the film shows primarily what happened on the mountain, it does interject my time in Boston, doing meth and skating off the ice. But when it comes to showing my childhood, whether it’s Dad driving away, hiding in the closet during an argument, or playing with a broken foot, it was ingrained in me that you just couldn’t quit.”
Watching the film in a theater with representatives from various Hollywood companies, the film’s emotional high points felt like they were playing LeMarque like an emotional instrument. He saw the levels he was pushed and remembered elements of his story from a different time and place. Of course, he’d revisited them before in his first book, 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain, on which the film is based, and again, when he’d answered actor Josh Hartnett (who plays LeMarque in the film) on questions about how he dealt with individual elements of the experience. It’s just that the spiritual experience of the mountain changed LeMarque’s perspective on the earlier scars to something that prepared him for what he found in the wild.
“Everybody finds themselves on their knees at some point,” the Olympian-turned-snowboarder-turned-speaker shared. “In 1995, I’d asked God into my heart but I was living the complete life of a sinner. On the fifth night on the mountain, I didn’t know how to pray but I knew that my mother was worried, and I called out to God to give her peace that she’d see me again. The angst of knowing that my mom was worried drove me to pray.”
“When you hit rock bottom and you’re crying out, it doesn’t matter whether it’s an inarticulate cry or a full-blown conversation. When our hearts our in the right place, God honors that. The Spirit of God was there on the mountain with me.”
In one crucial scene, Hartnett’s LeMarque dumps out a bag of crystal meth he’s brought with him to the mountain for a chance to get high. It’s then that LeMarque says he was reflecting on his own isolation, remembering a time when he had friends and relationships, which was quite unlike his solitary trip to the slopes. Now, he says that dumping out the meth was his declaration that he was reclaiming life.
“Before the mountain, I was a tremendous narcissist,” admitted LeMarque, who is now happily married to the unironically-named Hope. “Even after the accident, even though my heart and intentions were aimed the right way, I still saw myself a certain way. When I met Hope [over twelve years ago], I didn’t even know who I was or what my identity was. I’d been stripped of my Olympic legs and didn’t see any way to contribute to society.”
LeMarque’s rehabilitation for the loss of his legs and the use of his prosthetics began after the mountain, but so did the way he had to unpack why he’d use drugs to mask his pain and how Christ could change his life. The cinematic 6 Below shares how the mountain was the place where God grabbed LeMarque’s attention, but those seeking another level of the story will want to read through the extended version in LeMarque’s memoir.
Because LeMarque met God on the mountain, and has been growing in relationship with God ever since.