Crystal Clear The Inspiring Story of Howan Olympic Athlete Lost His LegsDue to Crystal Meth and Found a Better Life Eric Le Marque with Davin Seay
PrologueI ran blindly, stumbling and falling, pushing my waythrough chest-high snow. My heart pounded against my ribsand I pulled each breath from the thin freezing air as if itwere my last. I could hear the creatures behind me, movingin closer, fanning out to attack from all sides, a pack on thehunt for human prey. Whimpering with fear, I shouted into the pitch-blackwilderness, my desperate voice echoing into the invisible dis-tance. “No!” It was both a cry of deﬁance, and of utter and abject de-feat. I was helpless against the beasts lunging towards me. Icouldn’t believe I was about to die. It was a vivid, harrowingnightmare and I couldn’t wake up. I screamed again, but thistime it was nothing more than an anguished, inarticulate cry.I had been reduced to the level of the animals that were go-ing to eat me. All thought and reason had vanished. I was apiece of meat, helpless prey for the savage stalkers.
6 Eric LeMarque C RY S TA L C L E A R 7 I stumbled, plunging face ﬁrst into a deep drift. I strug- Of course, you couldn’t tell me that. I was never going togled to get up, moving a few feet before I got bogged down become one of those hollow-eyed, bleeding-gum humanagain and had to start pushing myself through the snow one wrecks that haunt the underworld of the drug culture. I hadlaborious step at a time until I ﬁnally came to a complete too much self-respect for that, too much pride in my physicalhalt. My legs were trembling and I could feel the trickle of abilities and too much conﬁdence in my own will power. Nowet snow mingling with my sweat. Terror had paralyzed me. I white powder was ever going to overcome my steely self-con-couldn’t move. This was where it would end, in a ﬂurry of trol.sharp teeth and slavering jaws. As I lay motionless, waiting Until it did.for death, one thought, one question, went round in my brain But the story of my addiction doesn’t stop there. Therein an ever-tightening circle: was another powder I was addicted to and in a way that ad- How did I get here? diction was far more potent and seductive than my need for The answer was simple. speed had ever been. I was addicted to powder. That powder came out of the sky, when weather condi- tions were just right and the freezing bite of the air brought down a dust so ﬁne and pure you could blow it away with aWhen I say “powder” you might be thinking cocaine, or puff of your breath. It covered everything, coating moun-maybe heroin. But what I’m talking about is even worse: tains and valleys and the slopes in-between until it was all youmethamphetamine — speed — one of the most dangerous could see, glinting in the sun or spreading out under a lowand destructive drugs known to man. bank of clouds where earth met heaven. For over a year, at a key juncture in my life, my world re- And it was heavenly, in a way that’s impossible to de-volved around little plastic bags of sparkling white crystals. I scribe to anyone who hasn’t launched themselves on a snow-loved the way meth made me feel, the focus and energy and board into that clean, empty space where the only sound issense of unlimited power that came with that chemical rush, the soft whisper of acceleration and all you’re conscious of isevery time I snored a line. a weightless, ﬂoating and buoyant exhilaration. In that way, I guess I wasn’t much different from the I was addicted to powdered snow. The crystals are tinymost ravaged of speed freak you might see tweaking on the and dry and lighter than air, the polar opposite of the fat, wetstreet, talking to himself, obsessing over ever more miniscule and heavy snow that turns to slush even as you maneuverdetails, endowed with a sense of his own importance and om- through it. Fresh powder gets thrown up in shimmeringnipotence. I was a crank addict like every crank addict and I sheets as you make turns and cutbacks across the crest of awas heading down the same path of death and decay. mountain in those precious few hours just after a storm. Your
8 Eric LeMarqueboard glides over it with frictionless ease, nothing holdingyou down and nothing holding you back. Every sensation isheightened, every second stretches to eternity. You feel theﬂow beneath you, sliding past gravity in a vast white land-scape, listening to yourself breathe or holding your breath asyou hit a jump and suddenly you’re airborne. The wind ﬁllsyour lungs and the ecstasy of perfection overcomes you. There’s the rush of speed that comes from meth. And CHAPTER ONEthen there’s the rush of speed that comes from supercharg-ing your senses in fresh powder. There’s no comparison. But Fresh Tracksthen again, I didn’t have to choose. I was addicted to both ofthem and in my mind they were intertwined. I lived for pow-der in one form or another. And before I could shake free ofthose twin addictions, I had to nearly die. I got up late that morning. It was close to ten when I This is the story of that near death experience, through opened my eyes and as soon as I realized what time it was, Ithe valley of the shadow of death and out the other side. It’s a could only think about one thing: the mountain was alreadystory of addiction, but it’s more than that. It’s also about how open and I wasn’t out there capping it.you sometimes have to lose part of yourself, maybe even the My feeling of frustration grew when I glanced out thepart you love the most, before you can really know what window and saw that, after ﬁve days of a heavy blizzard andmakes you whole. It’s a story about how ﬁnding your thick fog, the sky was now a bright and cloudless blue. Thestrength can come from reaching the limits of your en- storm that had brought me up to Mammoth Mountain adurance. About ﬁnding out if you never quit you will win. It’s week earlier had passed. The weather report had called forabout God and the unknowable, unimaginable plan God ﬁve to seven feet. Instead, almost ﬁfteen feet of fresh cham-has for our lives. pagne powder had been dumped. Conditions were going to be epic. This is what I lived for. Of course, so did a lot of other guys. As I jumped out of bed and quickly began getting myself ready for a day of non- stop snowboarding, it was almost as if I could hear the exu- berant shouts of everyone else already up there, dropping cliffs, catching air, and getting perfect rides all up and down
10 Eric LeMarque C RY S TA L C L E A R 11the mountain. I prided myself in being the ﬁrst one up the form as required. But it’s also true that my personal perform-lift in the morning and the last one off the slopes before ance standards were very high. The fact is that my physicalnightfall. Now I’d be forced to stand in line, take my turn abilities, the athletic ability I was born with, deﬁned who Iand, worst of all, ride through snow that someone else had was, to myself and to others. It seemed that I had a knack forgotten to before me. I was anxious, obsessed in fact, with get- anything I tried, starting with staking and hockey, upting where I needed to be. I wasn’t thinking about the through baseball, basketball, football, surﬁng, even golf.necesUntil I survived an ordeal that would strip away every And, of course, snowboarding — riding — which was a sportfalse assumption and easy belief I ever had, I thought I knew I excelled in above all others. With all of them, it was my feetwho I was. And as far back as I can remember, a big part of that led the way to some of the most triumphant, memorablethat identity had been about my feet. and exciting moments of my life. That may sound weird. If most people were asked to sin- I never imagined what that life might be like without mygle out their most important asset, they usually talk about feet. Who could? The only time you may notice your feet istheir character and integrity; their mind, or their heart or when they get sweaty or smelly or dog-tired. You ﬂex youreven their face. But for me, it was my feet. The carried me to ankles and wiggle your toes without thinking about it. Theyvictory after victory in my life, racking up one achievement are an extension of us, the way we get around in this worldafter another. My footwork was what had earned me a place and without them, the horizons of that world can shrink toon the Boston Bruins lineup in the National Hockey League, nothing.the thrill of winning several World Championships and the That’s what happened to me. I lost my feet, eight inchesopportunity to play in the 1994 Winter Olympics in below the knee, and my world was suddenly reduced to theLillehammer. Everything I accomplished as an athlete — and four walls of a hospital room. Through a combination ofI accomplished a lot from a very young age — involved my over-conﬁdence and poor judgment, brought on by my methfeet in one way or another. Even on the slopes, as an expert addiction, I allowed my feet to freeze. When I realized whatrider, it was my feet that conveyed to me the sensations of was happening, I did everything I could to reverse thesoaring, gliding and jumping. They allowed me to master the process. But it was too late. The parts of my body that hadterrain I was negotiating on every run, to make the split sec- taken me so far, so fast, were dead. And if they weren’t cutond adjustments and last minute decisions that gave snow- away from me, I would have died also. For once in my life, Iboarding its instinctive and spontaneous thrill. They were had no choice. But that didn’t make the decision any easier.what kept me grounded and allowed me to soar. I’d be lying if I said that there haven’t been times since, in my Like most of us, I took my body, and all its parts, for darkest hours, when I regretted that decision, times whengranted. I expected it to be there when I needed it and per- death seemed preferable to what I had to endure.