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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Petty

APiD Ep. 059 | The Making of The Alpinist's Marc-André Leclerc

A Transformational Conversation with Marc-André's Mom, Michelle Kuipers


"If I've learned anything in the last three years, it's that life and death are so much bigger than us. You embraced life and love with all your amazing energy, which still reverberates. You are still with us on walks in the forest, on windy ridges, in a sunlit moment after the rain, in the love, laughter, and music of your friends and family. You are there in dreams that seem more real than waking moments. Everyday I think of you on your timeless flight. I love you with all my heart, and miss you more than words can say."

Michelle Kuipers wrote this heartrending caption for an Instagram post on March 5, 2021--the third anniversary of the death of her son, Marc-Andre' Leclerc, who died in 2018 descending the Mendenhall Towers in Alaska with his climbing partner, Ryan Johnson.

Marc-Andre's life is the subject of the acclaimed 2021 documentary, The Alpinist, currently available on Netflix. Michelle also appeared in the film.


Marc-Andre's story changed my life--or maybe more accurately, IS changing my life. And I know I'm not alone. Michelle's instagram feed is full of messages from people saying the very same thing. For the first few days after watching The Alpinist, I was unsettled and on edge, stirred up and angsty, aware that Marc-André's story had awakened something deep within me--something that I wasn't yet able to identify or articulate but wouldn't leave me alone. Something that needed attention.

Which is odd on the one hand, because although I do love being out in nature's wild places, I've never aspired to anything like the kind of audacious adventures that Marc-André undertook. I'm not an alpinist, as he was, or even a climber. But the fact that his story is changing my life nonetheless, as different as we are and as different as our stories are, reveals that The Alpinist is ultimately not a story about remarkable feats in the alpine environment. It's not a climbing movie, merely.

It's a story about hearing and heeding our unique calling in life--wholeheartedly and unapologetically and without self-conscious concern for its relative value or utility in the world.

It's a story about being ourselves--being the one and only me, the one and only you, with guts, gusto, and abandon. It's a story about how writing a great story with our life can change other people's lives.

And that's the gift of Marc-André's story in my life--the exhortation and admonition to be ME. That's what was awakened within me and demanded attention when I first watched The Alpinist. Even though I've been on a journey to become who I was made to be for many years now, and as a coach I help others on the same journey, my reaction to The Alpinist showed me that I was still wrestling deep in my heart with whether it was ok or enough. Marc-André's story brought that internal conflict to the surface and gave me the confidence to put my doubts to rest.

From Michelle’s Perspective

Perhaps the most important sub-plot in The Alpinist is the relationship between Marc-André and his mom. That part of the storyline absolutely captivated me. How had Michelle summoned the courage and the wisdom to help Marc André discover and pursue such an audacious calling? How had she helped Marc-André become who he was made to be? I wanted to know more.

So I reached out to Michelle on Instagram from out of the blue, and long-story-short, much to my surprise and pleasure, Michelle agreed to be on the show.

In this exclusive conversation, Michelle and I dig deeper into the story, exploring questions like: What did the documentary leave out? How did Michelle cope with worry when Marc-Andrè was out on a solo climb? What was Marc-André's philosophy of life? And how does Michelle live differently because of her son’s life and tragic death?

And Michelle's account of Marc-André’s first climbing experience will surprise you.

This episode is also a paradigm-shifting masterclass in how to live sovereign, empowered, and purposeful lives. It's a goldmine.

If you enjoyed The Alpinist, you’ll love getting to know Marc-André even better through Michelle's eyes. And, you’ll be equipped with wisdom and insight for your own life from a remarkable woman.

We recorded this episode on March 10, coincidentally the 4th anniversary of the day Michelle returned from Alaska without Marc-André, after the effort to recover his body at the base of the Mendenhall Towers had been abandoned. I feel extremely fortunate to have spent time with Michelle, on a day fraught with so many emotions, to celebrate, honor, and learn from a remarkable man and his remarkable mom.

Highlights From This Conversation

5 key insights stick out to me from this conversation that help us understand HOW to be our true selves:

First, our Story and our Purpose in the world are inseparable. Marc-André's family's lack of financial resources in his early years was a constraint that inspired creativity in their family and "activated" Marc-André's imagination and thirst for adventure. In what ways does your Story point to your true calling?

Next, to be our true selves, we have to determine what we really want. Michelle's conversation with Marc-André after graduation created an environment within which Marc-Andrè was able to acknowledge what he really wanted and go for it. What do you really want? If you don't know, what's in the way? If you haven’t already, tune in to Ep. 055, What Do You Want: A Path to Purpose and Fulfillment, with Chris Slota, for a real-world case study in how to determine what we want.

Next, when we find things that align with the kind of human we are, the naturally-occurring collateral benefits are dedication, discipline, sacrifice, and ultimately, proficiency and mastery. Marc-Andrè applied himself to alpinism with a focus and determination far beyond anything he'd been able to muster in any other area of his life. What naturally brings out dedication, discipline, and sacrifice in your life? Whatever it is, it's very likely a key to who you were made to be.

Next, be willing to put in the work to get what you want. Marc-Andrè spent countless thousands of hours becoming the boldest alpinist of his generation--perhaps the boldest of any generation so far. What calls to you so strongly that you're willing to put in the work required to get it?

Finally, try different things in life, and be willing to acknowledge what fits you and what doesn't, regardless of the prevailing cultural and social norms. Michelle was a keen and attentive observer of the kind of human her son was, and she encouraged him to shut out prevailing cultural and social norms in order to tune in more closely to what he liked and didn't like. What are you giving time and energy to largely because of prevailing norms? What would you begin to give more time and energy to if those prevailing norms weren't present?

Tune in to the full episode to learn 5 tenets of Marc-Andrè’s philosophy of life–the same philosophy that propelled him to such astounding heights in the mountains and allowed him to become the person he was made to be.

One Story…A Million Different Meanings

The wonderfully mysterious thing about sharing someone's story is that the same story can mean a million different things to as many different people.

Other people's stories come alongside our story, so to speak, and serve as a mirror of sorts--a mirror that allows us to see ourselves more clearly than we otherwise would have.

We often find comfort, confirmation, inspiration, AND challenge in the image reflected back to us. Comfort that we're not alone, confirmation of choices we've made, inspiration to aspire to new heights, and sometimes, a challenge to forsake old, unproductive ways and embrace new, life-giving ones. So I'm encouraged by the certain knowledge that Michelle's and Marc-André's stories are working their magic in the hearts and minds of all who listen to this episode…

But Don’t Miss This…

…AND, if I were to pick one thing that I hope EVERYONE gets from this episode, it's the courage to be YOU, the one and only you. To hear and heed whatever is calling to you--wholeheartedly, unapologetically, and without self-conscious concern for its relative value or utility in the world. We CAN'T know what the ultimate value of the pursuit of our calling will be. Marc-André certainly couldn't have known how many lives his story would change. He didn't set out to change lives; he simply responded to the call in his heart the best he knew how. And it turns out that his best was none other than the best-ever. And, it turns out that his example is inspiring people like you and me to be who we were uniquely made to be, with guts, gusto, and abandon.

Ladies and gents, consider the riches available when we persist in becoming our true selves. And consider the costs of not doing so.

Here's to becoming who we were each uniquely made to be!

Remember: You ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So follow Marc-André’s example, and get after it!

Making It Matter In YOUR Life

What stuck with YOU from this episode? Message me on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn, visit my website, or email me.

And if you're new to this show, welcome! I invite you to browse the archive of past interviews with fascinating people and short, topical solo episodes--all designed to equip you with the mindset and the means to become the person you were made to be and live the life you were made to live with guts, gusto, and abandon. We flip the script by inviting our ancient foe, Death, to become an unlikely ally in our heroic journey to leave it all out on the field of life. Turns out, Mortality might just be the best motivator available--blasting us out of our ambivalence and complacency and toward the fullness of our potential.

I’m so glad you tuned in today. Don’t forget to follow this show, and I’ll see you next time on Andrew Petty is Dying.

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