In ‘Andrew Petty is dying,’ a Steamboat-based podcaster examines death of climber Marc-André Leclerc
Canadian Alpinist Marc-André Leclerc completed some of the world’s most difficult summits in his short life, including Torre Egger in Patagonia and the Emperor Face of Mount Robson in British Columbia. In the 2021 documentary “The Alpinist,” viewers watch Leclerc, a tiny speck in an enormous landscape, accomplish feats other climbers only dream of — and he does this while free soloing, arguably the world’s most extreme sport. A free soloist climbs rock or ice faces on mountains with no harnesses or protection — nothing but skill and willpower keeping one from falling into the abyss.
Leclerc had achieved more than most free soloists when his life was cut short during a climb in 2018. He was 25. “The Alpinist” chronicles both his achievements and untimely death.
“The Alpinist is … not a climbing movie, merely,” said Andrew Petty, a life coach and podcaster based in Steamboat Springs. “It’s a story about how writing a great story with our life can change other people’s lives.”
Petty’s podcast, “Andrew Petty is Dying,” is inspirational rather than morbid.
“The podcast is (about) confronting our mortality so we can use it to motivate us to live as well as we can,” Petty said.
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On Mother’s Day, Petty talked with Leclerc’s mother, Michelle Kuipers, about her son’s childhood, climbing accomplishments and how she raised such an adventurous individual.
Kuipers, who was featured in “The Alpinist,” was Leclerc’s first and most pivotal influence. Kuipers inspired in her son a love for adventure and nurtured his free spirit rather than trying to rein it in.
“I used to say he arrived on this planet enraged to be in the body of a helpless infant. I knew that we would both be happier as soon as he could start moving and he could express his avid mental activity through physical activity,” Kuipers said during her interview with Petty.
The overly active child, branded a misfit by a school system that tried to keep him contained, eventually found a sense of belonging in the mountains.
“Marc-André lived the life he was meant to live,” Kuipers said, speaking about how she responded to those who told her climbing was too dangerous. “It’s not so much that I encouraged him to climb, it was more like I allowed him to pursue something that he loved. … To hold somebody else back to give myself a little bit more internal peace as a parent, I think, is an incredibly selfish thing to do.”
Petty and Kuipers discussed how parents can let their children learn from their mistakes.
“You don’t want them to crash and burn per se, but sometimes a little bit of crashing and burning is OK, because that’s how they learn,” Kuipers said. “The reality is as soon as you bring a child into the world, you’re going through the process of letting them go. That’s the hardest thing a person will ever do.”
Petty added that even adults can be crippled by the idea they might “crash and burn,” explaining that some people never pursue their passion because they fear failure.
“When you’re starting out doing something, … it takes courage and humility to be willing to make mistakes in front of the world,” Petty said.
Leclerc embodied the definitions of courage and humility; at a young age he learned to face his fears. “The first time Marc-André went on a climbing wall when he was 6 years old, he cried. He was scared,” Kuipers told Petty. “But at the same time, he had this incredible desire to live fully. He would do things over and over again, that he wanted to achieve. He was willing to invest the time and effort — essentially in blood, sweat and tears.”
By the time he was 15, Leclerc was leading climbing expeditions that included adults.
“Those climbs in the Stanley Headwall or Mount Robson or Torre Egger were sort of the grand finale of thousands of climbs that came before, of the investment of hours and hours of practice,” Kuipers said.
In the episode, listeners also got an inside glimpse of Leclerc’s life philosophy, which they can borrow for their own life. One of Leclerc’s philosophies is to appreciate every moment of life fully, whether big or small, since you only experience something for the first time once.
“A huge thing about living like Marc-André is, don’t be living without living,” Kuipers said. “Sitting on your phone, scanning social media, doing your work half-hearted, going through the motions. And then looking back on your week and not being able to remember anything … that stood out to you as meaningful. Living like Marc-André is to step out of that.”
Leclerc made every moment count in the time he had on Earth. He left a legacy in the hearts of many people, from his family to his climbing partners to those who merely watched his ascents from afar. Petty concluded his interview with a dedication to Kuipers.
“There’s no Marc-André, there’s no film called ‘The Alpinist’ and no life-changing legacy without all of the courage, wisdom and love you invested in Marc-André,” Petty said.
Only a few humans out of millions will master free solo climbing. But even if person’s calling is tamer than Leclerc’s, they can still embody his spirit in whatever they do.
“Marc-André lived in a manner that is very similar to how I hope to help others live. His story was significant to me because it demonstrated the value of fulfilling our true calling to the best of our ability,” Petty told Sky-Hi News. “He was just setting out to be the best alpinist he could be and have amazing experiences in wild places. He couldn’t have known the benefits … to the world would be this beautiful story that inspires people.”
Many more people will be inspired by Petty’s interview with Kuipers. Petty added that listeners should take that emotion one step further.
“Inspiration is great, but if it doesn’t have the opportunity to create change, it just comes and goes,” Petty said. “I’m hoping that with this episode, people will have important new insights for themselves, be willing to take action on those insights, and it will produce some transformation in their lives.”
“Andrew Petty is a Dying” is a production of The Graveyard Group. There are currently 59 episodes in the podcast, and new episodes typically air every two weeks. Episodes are available now on Petty’s website or any podcast platform. In addition to his podcast, Petty also hosts The Graveyard Group, a motivational group where peers encourage each other to work through issues, and offers one-on-one life coaching, both in person and virtually.