By John Clary Davies
Marc-Andre Belliveau was in his prime, in 2006, when he was paralyzed from the waist down in a fall while filming with Teton Gravity Research. Belliveau, whose personality and style made him a joy to be around and watch, had broken his T12 vertebra.
Five years later, Belliveau has moved on. A musician, he performs regularly (listen to him here), and he works for a campground on the north shore of Quebec's Saint Lawrence River, organizing sea kayak whale-watching tours. This winter, he'll work for a hostel that sets up ski trips in the Chic-Choc mountains. "It's the best place to ski powder out east," he says. Powder.com recently caught up with Belliveau to talk about his career, what he's learned from his injury, and skiing in a chair.
When I was 18 or 19 I started doing big air competitions in Quebec. I went to the U.S. Open because I was trying to get sponsored at the time. I came in third at the U.S. Open in Vail and got some sponsorship from Volkl. They put me on the international team at the time and I started travelling all over.
I started jumping big air and stuff with J.P. Auclair and J.F. Cusson. Later on, we started doing comps and shot a little bit together. Then I hooked up with the Utah crew… Chris Collins, Sage Cattabriga—all together in skiing and teaching each other tricks and stuff.
When Pep did this really big cliff to fakey, I couldn't even believe it was possible. We saw the shot and it was sick. It was all happening. At first you would hear somebody was doing something and be like, 'Holy shit, I'm going to try to that.' It was pretty exciting.
In skiing you cannot be an asshole and be appreciated by anyone. The guys that did really good are in mags and videos because they are fun to hang out with.
I was always trying to get something better, always ready to throw down something cool and not necessarily crazy, but something fun to watch.
We were partying a lot. At the time we pretty much wanted to get as mashed as we could and get the best skiing we could. It was crazy how it worked out. We were pretty unorganized, but somehow things would turn our way.
I went on a trip near Nelson in a heli operation and it was the last day of the trip and the last run of the day. I went for one last run when I was tired. I don't know what happened, but I fell from top to bottom basically. I busted up my ass and T12 vertebra. I was paralyzed right away.
I knew I was fucked up. I was hurting like crazy. I couldn't move my legs. It's so brutal and real when you don't feel your legs. I could tell right away that it was going to be a life-lasting thing. Like, for sure at first I was hoping I could walk again, but right away the doctor saw pictures of my vertebra and saw that there was really little chance or none that I could move my muscles again. Since then, I never got better. I don't have any more muscles that work. It never improved.
I was at the hospital on the third of April, 2006. By December 2006, I was skiing. It really took not too long. I was skiing again right way. Having a really good time skiing.
It was not the same. But you can definitely have a ball skiing with a sit ski. … At first I wanted to go ski powder and that's what I got myself to do by the end of the season.
I'm still skiing. I need a new ride. Last year I had a few good days of powder skiing.
I went down pretty hard in the third and fourth years not doing anything, trying to get myself together. Trying to get myself to do stuff was really hard. I think the main thing in life, whatever you do, whatever you are, you just got to stay active and do fun stuff everyday.
When I stay active, I'm happy, but when I don't do shit, that's when I feel shitty about myself. Right now I'm working at a campground and welcoming people to the campground, and I feel great about myself, being there and working. It's the kind of job that I would never have wanted to do before, and now I'm doing it and I feel great about myself. Soon enough I'm going to start travelling again, hopefully with music.
You can be totally crippled and still do something everyday. You can get around really good and get away with a really good life. I think of the past. I had a great time. I was a great skier and life was great. There was still some part of that that was not so great. I don't regret anything. It's in the past.
I'm still trying to see how much it changed me. I'm learning everyday still to live with my handicap. I would always try to get a lot of attention before. Now, people like watching me all the time—you see somebody in a wheelchair and watch them. I get this attention right away so I don't have to be as loud as before. Now I'm trying to get less attention.
I was just trying to get away from everyone and they never stopped trying to help me out. The family, my brother, my sister and my parents, were definitely really helpful. I'd say whoever was there around me at any period of time was my best support. It was more complicated to be with me because of accessibility and stuff. There's always somebody there—sometimes just there for five minutes—but they really help me out and I believe sometimes people are there for a few minutes in your life but can make the greatest difference in your life. It can be really simple but it's coming from somebody you don't know or somebody that is there in the right place and tells you the right thing at the right moment and you eat it up and you just go with it.