Levi LaVallee is raising the bar with the Wings for Life Foundation
© Anthony Sansotta / Red Bull Content Pool
The pacesetting snowmobiler hits the throttle to raise money for spinal cord injury research with livestream event on November 17th.
Levi LaVallee has been both a pacesetter and a trailblazer since his very first X Games gold medal in snowmobile snocross in 2004. Since then he’s amassed an extensive collection of accolades in both racing and freestyle competitions, attempted the first double backflip on a snowmobile in 2009, launched the entire San Diego Bay in a record-setting jump during Red Bull New Year No Limits in 2011, put out a full urban snowmobiling video part in 2016, and—as this is a very abridged list of his accomplishments—each winter continues to redefine what is possible on a snowmobile. But while Levi is notorious for sending it on his sled, he’s equally dedicated to giving back to causes he believes in, using his snow spotlight to help others. Over the past few years, the Minnesota native has deepened his collaboration with Wings for Life, a not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation that is working to find a cure for spinal cord injury.
On November 17th at 12pm, Levi is teaming up with Wings for Life on Mission Connection, a first-of-its-kind livestream event that aims to raise money for Wings for Life’s efforts. During the 1-hour event, Levi and host Maude Garrett will share an inside look at the monumental tricks and triumphs of Levi’s career, talk with special guests and Red Bull teammates, and auction off a grip of gear, prizes, and sports memorabilia from Levi’s personal collection—all to raise money for spinal cord research. As Levi gets ready to recount the behind-the-scenes of his biggest, fastest, and gnarliest moments, he shared some insight about what to expect during Mission Connection and why spreading awareness about Wings for Life is important to him.
Red Bull: How did you get involved with Wings for Life?
Levi LaVallee: I went to a few different events over the years and then in the winter in 2019, I held this race called the Tri Five. It’s a judged race instead of whoever crosses the finish line first. You get an old beater snowmobile and whoever is the most creative and has the most fun wins. It kind of turned into the Red Bull Flugtag of racing. I had been doing it up at my shop for a couple of years, just invite-only. The idea was to grow it so that we could eventually charge an entry fee and have all the entry fees go to charity, and that’s what we were able to finally achieve in 2019. All the money that we raised went to Wings for Life. So that was the first real time that we were working close with them. Leading up to that, I’ve been with Red Bull for so many years and I’ve had the opportunity to be around a lot of the different Wings for Life activations. I’ve always thought what Wings For life is about—and how if you donate a dollar, a dollar goes to spinal cord research—is just incredible. I’ve been a racer and rider my whole life and I know friends that have unfortunately had spinal cord injury, and if we can figure out how to eliminate that fear of not being able to walk again, I think that would be incredible.
It’s amazing that Wings for Life is working toward a cure for spinal cord injury, which is something many people probably don’t realize is even a possibility.
Yeah, it’s incredible the things that they’ve been able to find out through their research and everything they’ve supported. In the snowmobile racing community, we have an aspiring racer who is fifteen years old named Raycer Frank and he just had an injury this spring. He was champion in snocross this past year. He was the hot rider coming up. And unfortunately, he got in an accident racing dirt bikes and had a spinal cord injury. It’s gut-wrenching to see that. It motivates me even more to help Wings for Life as much as I can.
Your career is driven so much by pushing the boundaries of what is possible on a snowmobile, yet in order to do that, you must have an acute awareness of the risks that are involved and how to deal with them when you’re riding. That must give you a unique perspective about all of this.
Exactly. I think for most people that ride motorcycles or snowmobiles or anything like that, especially competitively, you know that risk is there and that’s probably the number one fear that everyone has. If we can support Wings for Life, which is doing anything and everything possible to be able to try to achieve a cure for spinal cord injury, and if they are able to do that and get people that have a passion for riding, or for whatever they do, to be able to go back and do that passion, to me, that’s a dream come true. If you’re racing and competing and doing things like us, you definitely put yourself at more risk, but the interesting thing is, typically, it’s from an auto accident that most anyone is at risk [of spinal cord injury] in your regular daily life. So what Wings for Life is trying to remedy really should touch home with more people. I hope we can spread the message and get more people involved since over 90% of spinal cord injuries don’t even involve sports.
The World Run is one of Wings for Life’s biggest annual events to spread awareness and fundraise. You have been participating in the run for a while now, right?
This past year I did it at home—they had a virtual one. The year before, we had a run in Minneapolis. I did go down to Florida and do the run in 2015 or 2016, which was an incredible experience. I don’t know if it was the motivation of what we were doing or what, but that was the longest I’ve ever run at one time in my life, ha—which is nothing to be proud of, but for me, I’m like, “Man, I did it!” The whole time, I never stopped running. I was probably going less than a walking pace, but I was like, “I’m not going to walk,” because you have this ability and you’re doing this for those who can’t. That was my motivation. So, I just kept running. I had a really bad foot injury where I broke my foot and my heel. My foot is all lopsided now, so if I go over 10,000 steps my foot starts barking at me. But my motivation was that I should be grateful for this pain in my feet because there are people who would do anything to be able to walk, to run, to do any of that. That was my driving force.
How did your passion for giving back to the greater community develop?
I’ve had a very incredible career, being able to ride my snowmobile and live this dream, and as you go through it, you realize how many people have helped you to get there and how blessed you are. And you see friends and other people that have had injury or different issues and you just go, “Man, if I can use this platform that I have to be able to spread a message or to try to raise money for something…"—I think that’s the reason I was allowed to have this platform, you know? Sometimes when you’re young, you take it for granted and you’re like, “Oh, this is cool. I’ve got people following me.” That’s great, but as you get older you realize that you were given this stage for a reason. You can either let that go away or you can use it to spread good to try to make the world a better place.
So, this brings us to Mission Connection, the livestream event you are putting on with Wings for Life on November 17th. What is Mission Connection all about?
The idea behind Mission Connection is to share some highlights of my career while also raising money for Wings for Life. We’re going to have celebrity guests that were a part of different events—like Red Bull New Year No Limits, when Robbie Madison jumped world record jumps with me—and we’re going to tell the behind the scenes stories. We’re also going to be giving away some different items from my collection and some of my partners are going to help out. Shoei Helmets has a “Pick Any Shoei Helmet” coupon—a 700-dollar value, which is cool. And we’re also going to be offering a snowmobile trip for two where you can come up and ride with me. Ultimately, the goal is to bring awareness to Wings for Life and raise money for the foundation.
You’re going to be auctioning off some of your personal memorabilia collection?
Yeah, I have a lot of stuff from over the years. I’m going through it right now to find some very unique pieces that will be good to add to somebody else’s collection! I know there’s a lot of man caves out there that could use some stuff, ha.
Any leaks you can share about the special guests that will join you during the event?
We’re going to have Robbie Maddison, legendary daredevil, and Darren Rahlves, who’s a Red Bull skier. Darren participated with me at the Arctic Man in Alaska. I had the easy job, I just had to go 90 miles an hour on the snowmobile. He had to go 90 miles an hour behind me on skis, hanging onto a ski rope. We’re going to have Darren Berrecloth, who I raced during Red Bull Sledhammers, north of Montreal. He’s a very good snowbike racer. At Sledhammers, I was on my snowmobile and we raced head-to-head. It was a really good battle. It’s going to be really good to catch up with these guys. I mean, we’re talking about some of the most elite athletes in these different sports. It’s going to be really fun to talk about all the funny stories and some scary stories.
Mission Connection is the next big project that you have to support Wings for Life, but looking beyond that, what does the future hold for your continued work with the foundation?
So, what I plan on doing in the future is to continue to try to incorporate snowmobiling, which is my passion, for this awesome cause—like, as I mentioned, with the Tri Five race. Right now, the race is just here in Minnesota, but I would like to expand on that, to the East Coast, to the west. We’re out there riding snowmobiles, we’re having fun, and we’re doing it for the right reason. I just think it’s an incredible combo, so hopefully we can continue to grow that, bring more awareness to Wings for Life and raise as much money as we can. Most people know somebody personally that has this injury and I can’t wait for the day when Wings for Life can say, “We did it. We figured it out.”
Don't forget to tune in to the livestream on November 17th at 12pm to watch Levi share highlights of his career while raising money and awareness for Wings for Life with Mission Connection.