Contributor: Benjamin Steiner
For five-time World Champion, Mac Marcoux, the outdoors, competition, and adrenaline-filled sports have always been a part of his life. The 23-year-old Marcoux may be known for his ski racing, but his love of the outdoors and motorsports is comparable, despite having lost much of his vision in the last decade.
“My family was really into racing, we were racing go-karts when I was really little,” said Marcoux, who grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
When he was eight years old, his teachers noticed that he was moving closer to the blackboard in school; it was the onset of Stargardt’s disease, a form of macular degeneration. His parents looked for other sports that their very active child could play with his deteriorating vision. “We started skiing a few times a week as a family, at this little hill near our town. It wasn’t so much training, as just ripping down the hill, but I’ve never looked back”. Marcoux has about six percent normal vision, all in the periphery. He uses his phone to zoom in and read large fonts but describes his everyday vision as “being able to see his surroundings but not much detail.”
Since beginning his skiing journey, Marcoux has learned a lot about himself and credits the sport for many life skills.
“I’ve really learned how to get along with people, make the most of my day, be organized, and to do all this at a younger age than many,” said Marcoux, naming some of the lessons he has learned through ski racing. “I started traveling at 13, so I was forced to grow up and be responsible pretty fast, but there are also some elements where you’re really still that little kid ripping down the slope.”
As a visually impaired athlete, Marcoux races with a guide. He began his competitive years with his brother, BJ Marcoux as his guide, but has changed guides multiple times over the years, and is now racing with Tristan Rodgers of Ottawa, Ont. Switching has its challenges, but he has learned how to adjust. “Everyone’s been great, from my brother to Jack [Leitch], really everyone. You have to work well and be friends first before you can be productive in competition, and that’s been the case all along with me.”
Some of the lessons Marcoux has learned easily translate to his other passions, the outdoors and motorsports. Despite being legally blind, he still finds enjoyment in hopping on an ATV or bursting down a trail on a mountain bike. It might not be go-karts, but his love for motorsport and adrenaline has never faded.
“I never really lost motorsports and my parents never really put me in a bubble. I was still able to go snowmobiling, ATV riding, and stuff. Rather than playing sports, we spent a lot of time dirt biking around, it’s how I was raised, and I guess it has stuck.”
Marcoux admits that he can be a little crazy sometimes, but he has learned how to do these activities safely, despite not being able to drive a car. With support from guides, teammates, friends, and family, he can do most things including skiing and mountain biking remarkably well in good light. Similar to ski racing, unfamiliar areas, or low light can make his world a bit unnerving.
“Sometimes when the light isn’t too good, or I’m going down a trail I don’t really know, I just have to trust in my bike skills and stay close to the person in front of me,” said Marcoux, before going onto say how some may see it as a bit crazy, but it’s how he’s grown up, and he trusts himself.
Growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, there was a lot of access to the outdoors, but nothing compared to Whistler, BC, where he has lived since his mid-teenage years. Marcoux called biking one of the best cross-training sports there is for skiing, as well as for him, keeping his sharpness on the slopes in the off-season.
Being in Whistler for the majority of the summer as part of his training program with the Canadian Para-Alpine Ski Team, the two-time Paralympic gold medalist is surrounded by people who bike, many of whom are teammates, both para and able-bodied. “Almost everyone here shreds,” said Marcoux. “There are so many people that you can just send a text to people and see who wants to ride. It’s easy to find a crew, so makes it easy for me to get out and ride.”
While Marcoux cannot hit the roads in a car, he can get around off-road by ATV in the summer, and snowmobile in the winter. It gives him a sense of freedom, something that can feel stripped away from other aspects of his life.
The freedom of the outdoors combined with his appetite for adrenaline is also why he is hoping to get more into backcountry skiing. “I’m not planning on retiring anytime soon, but I want to become more confident in the backcountry. I love pushing myself, and that’s something that I want to become more familiar with.
For an 8-year-old kid who was inching closer to the blackboard every day, many would have counted Marcoux out, and if they did, they’ve been proven wrong at every step of the way. His passion for the outdoors, competition, and adrenaline pushed him through the tough moments and got him to where he is today, one of the most successful ski racers in the world.