Inspire is a documentary film about an extreme sports adventurer who, when faced with a life-changing amputation, refused to give up. The film features Mark Lichtle, an extreme sports adventurer living in Auburn, California who in April of 2011 lost his right leg due to surgery complications when doctors tried to repair an old sports injury. Not only does Mark recover from the loss of his leg, but with support of family, friends, and an introspective journey, Mark goes on to conquer many different sports disciplines such as skydiving, snowboarding, scuba diving, advanced hydrofoil riding, golf and high performance driving, and now BASE jumping.
The film involves dramatic footage from Mark’s life before and after the amputation. As an Emmy Award-winning extreme sports adventurer and producer, Mark has amassed a great quantity of media from his life prior to the amputation which helps to tell this amazing story. For the past year, Mark has been capturing footage in preparation for the movie. Currently all media coverage, including photos and video, have been edited into separate sequences displayed on the Inspire website, each telling a story about a particular sport and how Mark overcame the hurdles of having a prosthetic leg. The final sequence, which is the foundation for the entire film, is a BASE jump from one of the tallest
bridges in the United States, the New River Gorge in West Virginia. This segment is still in production, but when finished it will provide the foundation of the story, encompassing all of the other sequences into one dramatic film. The amount of effort and determination followed by success in this film is heartfelt and inspiring. By sharing this story of determination, setbacks, and success, Mark hopes to inspire others who are faced with challenges in their own lives.
The film starts off with Mark walking down a dusty dirt road at the base of the Foresthill Bridge in Auburn, California. The bridge is the setting for what will be a nostalgic retrospect on Mark’s life before and after the loss of his leg. Mark talks about the various sports that he loved to do before the amputation and how he struggled that first year after the surgery. “I had to learn to walk all over again,” said Mark. But Mark considers that to have been the easiest part. The hard part was getting his stump accustomed to the prosthetic socket. This was extremely frustrating to Mark because in his mind he was ready to move forward – but his body and new leg weren’t cooperating.
The walk down the trail continues as Mark talks more about his quest. Mark wanted to do all the things he did before the amputation, but despite his drive and optimism he had to be patient because the first year was filled with many challenges. He was going through a period where the muscles in his leg would atrophy and his stump would grow smaller. Because of this, it was harder to settle into a socket, and then the final socket wouldn’t fit right away. Mark grew increasingly frustrated. After a year and several sockets later, Mark’s leg eventually settled in and became accustomed to the prosthetic. With the full support and encouragement from his family, Mark finally felt it was time to begin his new life and start a quest that had been bouncing around in his head for over year. Mark wanted to see if he could still perform all of the sports that he loved to do before his amputation, but this time it would be with one leg, and it wasn’t going to be easy.
One of the first things Mark wanted to do was get back into the water and start riding his hydrofoil, which is called a Sky Ski. Sky skiing was a newly acquired sport that Mark had just learned the year prior to his amputation. The doctor said that Mark would have to wait six weeks after the amputation before entering the lake water to minimize his chances of infection. On the last day of the sixth week, Mark was out riding his hydrofoil, and although the transition was strange and different, he persevered and was able to adapt.
Unsatisfied with just riding his sky ski, Mark decided to push harder and work on performing aerial flips. The videos that Mark watched of sky ski professionals performing these tricks were awe-inspiring to him. He didn’t care that these were 15 to 20 year veterans of the sport and much younger than him. Mark was determined to replicate these flips and the footage of his efforts is nothing less that spectacular.
Also on Mark’s quest was a return to snowboarding. It had been over 8 years since he had been able to ride and he was anxious to see if he could still do it. Mark hit the slopes with a vengeance, but again was quickly disappointed. Because of the way that most prosthetic ankles work, he was unable to ride correctly. In order to compensate for the ankle he was forced into an uncomfortable riding position and it felt terrible. “Yes, I was snowboarding but it sucked,” said Mark.
Frustrated by this experience, Mark sought the help of his prosthetist, Michael Carlson, who worked for Hanger Prosthetics. Michael recommended that Mark test another ankle called the Echelon, made by Endolite. What made this ankle special was its ability to allow the user to lean into the prosthetic foot and not have it push back. Most prosthetic ankles are based on kinetic energy, which immediately return any pressure that is applied. The new ankle was very promising and Mark couldn’t wait to try it.
Mark faced that first day back on the slopes with extreme trepidation. Would the new ankle work or would this be just another disappointment? But on the very first run, Mark knew he was back. The ankle performed flawlessly and by day’s end, Mark felt that he had recovered as much as 75% of his original snowboarding ability. And by the time the snowboarding season ended, Mark felt he was near 90% and still progressing. Today, he’s grown beyond his original ability and can now snowboard all day without pain or fatigue.
Mark learned a valuable lesson while trying to snowboard: never give up and always look for an alternative way around your problems. With a little hard work and a lot of tenacity, he felt that he could overcome just about any physical hurdle. With a rejuvenated attitude towards his life as an amputee, Mark was looking forward to whatever the future had to offer.
As Mark continues his hike down the dusty road, he talks more about his quest and his life as an amputee.
During that snowboarding season, Mark noticed that complete strangers would come up to him and tell him what an inspiration he was. At first this made him feel uncomfortable, but after months of hearing it he started to think, what if he could inspire others to try harder and find new motivation in themselves? But how would he do this? With a background in video production, Mark had the idea to make a documentary about his journey as an amputee. He would allow people to see his successes, as well as his failures, and hopefully they would realize that with a little hard work and stronger determination, they too can overcome their own struggles. And so the movie Inspire was born.
With this new direction, Mark set out to test himself against all his previous sports with the camera rolling: sports such as skydiving, scuba diving, golf, hydrofoiling, snowboarding, high performance driving, and BASE jumping. The movie will be about his journey to overcome these challenges and not just survive them, but actually achieve a level of success only known to young, healthy, and experienced athletes.
One of the sports that Mark treasured most was BASE jumping. He had previously traveled the globe in search of some of the world’s most challenging jumps. In order to share his experiences, Mark created Aerial Extreme LLC. Through this company, Mark organized and performed some of the most incredible jumps in the BASE jumping arena. Some of his more spectacular jumps include 1,400 foot subterranean cave jumps in Mexico and wing suit jumps off of the 14,000 foot Eiger in Switzerland, which is also known as the Wall of Death. He rode a mountain bike off of a 3,000 foot mountain in Norway and also jumped from the world’s tallest building at the time, the 1,483 foot Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The list goes on.
All of these jumps are on tape and will be shown during the documentary as Mark narrates during his hike.
Unfortunately back in 1996, while filming a scene for a BASE jumping project, Mark broke his ankle on landing. An unexpected gust of wind blew him off his intended target after BASE jumping from a bridge. The gust of wind wasn’t strong, but was enough to move him a few inches off of his intended target and that was all it took.
He caught the edge of a rock and his right ankle snapped like a twig. With his camera rolling, Mark caught the entire scene on tape. The video shows what Mark sees upon landing and everything looks fine until the last second. On video you hear the ankle break as well as Mark nervously saying, “f@#k! I broke my leg”.
Mark quickly turns off the camera as he wasn’t sure what to expect. He felt no pain, but there was plenty of blood. Worried that he might have ruptured an artery, Mark called to his friends for help and they immediately called for a life flight helicopter. A friend took Mark’s helmet-mounted camera and recorded the entire rescue, including the helicopter making an incredible landing in the rugged canyon. Video footage shows that the rotor blades barely miss the steep canyon walls as the pilot maneuvers the chopper for landing. Then the emergency team place Mark on a gurney and carries him to the waiting helicopter.
The pilot takes off for the hospital, leaving behind a large, swirling dust cloud as the helicopter heads out of the canyon. Mark’s friends wish him luck in the video.
At the hospital, the doctor fixed Mark’s leg, and he was back jumping again within three months. But after 10 years and several hundred jumps later, the ankle grew arthritic and the pain became unbearable. Thus began a nightmare of doctors promising complete recovery but not delivering in the end. After 12 surgeries over several years and three ankle replacements, the ankle failed and Mark was faced with the toughest decision of his life. The doctors recommended that if Mark wanted a better quality of life, then he should amputate the leg. They said that he would do better and have less pain with a prosthetic versus a fusion. Mark chose the amputation.
The walk continues
Mark continues to tell his story when he comes upon a section in the trail and stops. “I think this is it,” he says. Mark reveals why he has brought us here. He pulls out a photograph of his broken leg: it’s a screen shot from his own video captured that fateful day in 1996. “It’s not pretty.” Mark says. “You can actually see the bottom of my right boot looking back at me”.
Also in the picture is the rock that Mark broke his leg on. “And there it is,” Mark says, pointing to a rock just off the trail. Everything is quiet for a moment. After composing himself, Mark says, “This is the very rock I broke my ankle on”.
Mark then divulges why he has come here. “20 years ago, I broke my leg on that very rock,” he says, “and indirectly, I lost my leg.” Mark explains that even though he had sought the help of renowned surgeons from all over the United States, they all faced difficulties in trying to repair his ankle.
Sitting next to the rock in the canyon;
“This is the first time I’ve come here since my accident,” Mark says. “So why is this so special?” he asks. “It’s the final part of my recovery,” he explains. “I’ve overcome so much since I lost my leg, and despite heavy odds, I’ve recovered and done well. I plan to BASE jump from the New River Gorge Bridge in West Verginia during Bridge Day, an annual BASE jumping event . This jump will bring me full circle. I’ve saved the best for last,” he says. “Mark’s final challenge in his quest and the anchor segment in the movie is a thrilling BASE jump from the 876 foot bridge. This bridge is one the highest bridges in the U.S. and is surrounded on both sides by steep terraine separated by the New River. The main landing area is slightly bigger than a tennis court but filled with dangerous rocks and trees, his only out is the icy cold rapids of the New River. Either way, it’s a formidable challenge and one that Mark is ready to face.
Watching an amputee perform sports that most people can’t do with all of their limbs must surely be motivating. “But that’s not what this documentary is about,” Mark says. “This film is about all people, not just amputees.” We all have problems and we all get our motivation from different places. I want people to see this film and say “I may face challenges that seem insurmountable, but I can do this.” It's all about attitude.
“Life is short,” Mark says. “Never give up and don’t stop trying. Don’t take no for an answer and believe in yourself. I’ve learned through my own challenges that ‘no’ simply means you haven’t tried hard enough.”
Still to be filmed;
The film ends with a magnificent BASE jump off the bridge. Not satisfied with just jumping, Mark intends to perform a backflip. After completing his rotation, he reaches back for the pilot-chute and has a safe opening. He flies towards the landing area just like he did so many years ago. But this time he makes a perfect landing among the crowd and other jumpers.
After landing, Mark tells the viewers to “Live life to its fullest. You only get one chance. Don’t let it slip away.”
Mark hopes those watching will be inspired by his movie, and try harder to keep petty issues in perspective. He hopes others will try new things and not run from challenges, but embrace them. He hopes his motto resonates with viewers.
Life, don’t just survive it, live it!