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One day when he was 6 years old, Louis Chaix’s skin started itching, and he was so exhausted he skipped his beloved hockey practice. His mother rushed him to the ER in their hometown of Nantes, France, but couldn’t get a diagnosis. So, she slept next to her little boy that night.
“And the next morning, I wake up and I’m covered in blisters head to toe. Then my skin just started falling off,” Chaix said. “People had no idea what I had. I was dying.”
After three and a half weeks in the hospital, Chaix was airlifted to a burn unit in Paris.
Chaix, now 25, remembers a doctor walking into his hospital room.
“My mom was there and I just had my eyes closed, but I was awake. And the doctor’s like, ‘If he’s not doing better by tonight, he’ll be dead tomorrow morning.’”
6-year-old Louis said no.
“I told my mom that I would live, and that one day I’d play hockey in North America.”
Chaix suffered from Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, or TEN, a life-threatening skin disorder characterized by a blistering and peeling of the skin. He survived TEN without any lasting damage, despite second-degree burns on more than 80 percent of his body.
“I was supposed to be blind,” he said. “I was more burned than if I jumped in the fryer at McDonalds.”
How a French hockey player ended up in Springfield, then decided to rollerblade across America
Chaix grew up in France but left home at 14 to play high-school-level hockey in Quebec City. Chaix later played junior hockey in Texas, where he met future Missouri State teammate Alex Rubin and other Ice Bears. In 2020 he transferred from Anna Maria College near Boston to MSU, sight unseen, to attend school and play hockey.
That fall, while rollerblading across campus with his roommate, Garrett Wojcicki, Chaix had an idea.
“We were just talking and I’m like, ‘Dude, it’d be crazy to rollerblade across America.’”
Wojcicki didn’t take it too seriously, but Chaix did. Later that same day he committed to the idea, but realized he needed a reason.
“I’m not going to be a ‘Hey, look at me. I’m doing this,’ Chaix said. “No, I need to find a purpose. And then I’m like, ‘Well, you’ve survived this really rare disease. Why don’t you raise awareness for that and money for research?’”
Still, it took some time to get going. He started training during the winter of 2021-22.
“I had been talking about doing this for too long for me not to actually come through it,” he said.
Chaix spent six months training — even though he was already playing hockey for Missouri State. He trained 6-8 hours a day, six days a week, while balancing classes and hockey.
“I would literally wake up at 4 in the morning, and then I would go to bed at like 2 a.m. because I had to finish homework, and then I’d do it all again. I was so tired, but there was much adrenaline with it,” Chaix said.
‘I grew more as a person in 45 days than I did in three years’
He partnered with Vanderbilt University to raise money for TEN research. He also raised money for trip expenses. Chaix called his journey 10forTEN, since he was born on October 10 and hoped to cross ten states. He had four others with him for support, including a director of photography for an upcoming documentary. Chaix was the only one skating across the country.
He started in Los Angeles on June 1, 2022, and headed for New York City. The first two weeks he averaged 54 miles per day, gradually building to 100 each day. But it was the mental grind; the endless peaks and valleys of his thoughts, that took up his energy.
“It was really hard. At first, I used to get really upset that the pavement was bad or there was a big hill,” he said.
For instance, at one point, he faced 3.5 miles of gravel road. Furious, he trudged along in his skates, which he refused to take off for the unexpected walk.
“I was really upset, but then I thought, ‘How can I make this moment more meaningful?” Chaix said.
Chaix had noticed litter alongside the road, but skated too fast to reach down and pick it up. So, while he walked, he picked up trash. That mindset helped pave the way, so to speak, for his 45-day journey.
“I grew more as a person in 45 days than I did in three years. I didn’t listen to music for safety reasons. But also, I wanted to hear those thoughts, as good or as negative as they could be. It gives you strength and control over your life,” he said.
Chaix skated across 13 states, covering 2,902 miles and gaining nearly 133,000 feet of elevation. Because TEN made him extremely sensitive to the sun, he reapplied sunscreen every 20-30 minutes and placed KT Tape under his eyes. He recalls a day in Arizona when his phone said it was 116 degrees. Later he read that it was actually 136 degrees on the pavement.
“The pavement is brutal. You’re on the side of the highway, and you’re delusional. I was all alone on the road, and I remember turning around like, ‘Oh, my God, there’s a semi coming.’ There was nobody. I was like, ‘You’re not feeling too good right now.’”
The finish line in New York City
Chaix savored the journey but was ready to be done when he arrived in New York City on July 17.
“At the end, I didn’t sleep. I just skated for 2.5 days straight. And I skated over 255 miles in maybe, like, 52 hours,” he said.
“I remember crossing the finish line. I was imagining it like a team wins a championship. Everybody’s going crazy. But I crossed the finish line. And the first thought that came to my mind was, “Oh, what do I do now?”
Chaix knew that depression could follow the letdown of finishing, but hasn’t suffered from it.
“People were like, ‘You’re gonna be so famous. You’re gonna be making so much money.’ First of all, I didn’t do this for the money. I certainly didn’t do it for the fame. And, I mean, how much money have I made from this? Zero,” he said.
He also knew that fame wasn’t going to ease the suffering of others.
“It’s not what you need when you’re on your deathbed. You don’t need money or fame. You need your life. You need something to relate to,” he said.
It was those strangers that inspired Chaix as he rollerbladed across the country.
“What if there’s somebody in the hospital, whether they have my disease or not, if they see me skating, and they’re like: You know what, I can’t wait to see where he’s at tomorrow. And that keeps their mind off what they’re facing,” he said.
Leaving Springfield for Sweden
After the trip, Chaix returned to Missouri State to complete a semester, only to find he needed a full year of general education requirements classes. He reached out to his coach to let him know he still had eligibility. But there wasn’t any room on the team.
Then a hockey coach in Sweden reached out this fall.
“I got contacted by a team on a Friday morning. I got my contract on Monday. I signed, and on Tuesday, I was gone,” Chaix said.
Now Chaix is living in Sollefteå, about 300 miles north of Stockholm. The sun sets at about 3 p.m. these days. He looks forward to seeing the northern lights. He is happy to be playing hockey.
Chaix’s journey has helped raise about $10,000 for TEN research, but he’s hopeful that a trip documentary will raise more funding and awareness. He will return to the U.S. this summer to help with the film, and to take another look at his adventure.
“I was in love with putting my skates on in the morning. Yeah, I got hit by a car. I fell. But I did this out of purpose. The purpose was so deeply rooted in my heart. That’s why it was so successful,” he said.