Adventurist Aron Ralston, who endured unthinkable sacrifices to survive an accident in the Utah wilderness, told audience members at Chadron State College on Tuesday to embrace their own “boulders,” just as he has come to appreciate the one that caused him to lose much of his right arm.
Ralston’s presentation, the first installment of this year’s Galaxy Series of fine arts and cultural events at Chadron State, drew a near-capacity crowd in Memorial Hall. The Boulder, Colo., resident spoke and answered questions for more than an hour and a half about the experience, which happened in 2003.
“We are all going to encounter adversity, encounter challenges, traumas, loss, grief, finals week, and all of the rest of it,” Ralston said. “These boulders are not something to be pushed away. Not something to feel like a burden, but rather maybe be something you embrace. Perhaps they’re something that you might even smile at, or welcome.”
Ralston recounted the five days his right arm was pinned beneath the weight of the half-ton boulder, and provided graphic detail of the thoughts and actions that led to him severing the limb with a dull knife in order to survive. He also told of the joy he experienced once free from the boulder, and the ensuing five hours of hiking and rappelling that led to his rescue.
“What you probably don’t know about me is the respect that I have for that experience,” he said. “When I walked out of that canyon, almost 10 years ago now, indeed I left something behind, but I didn’t lose anything.”
Ralston interspersed humor with the dark account, acting out the scenes of the experience. He spoke about the lows, which at one point prompted him to carve his epitaph in the nearby crevice wall. A high point, he said, was finally coming up with the idea to use the force of his body against the weight of the boulder to break the bones in his arm, making it possible for the knife – part of a cheap multi-tool which had become dull after chipping away at the rock – to cut through his arm.
The worst pain he’d previously experienced, he said, was having his hand slammed in a car door as a child. “That was my 10. Now, it was a zero.”
Despite the pain, Ralston describes the experience in the Blue John Canyon as the greatest thing that ever happened to him.
He said the boulder’s first gift was showing him what is most important – relationships with family and friends. He said his memories of loved ones, and the desire to return to their side, kept him going through the darkest periods. He also told of an out-of-body experience that featured a vision of who he now believes to be his son Leo, now 2 ½.
Ralston said his mother, who went to great lengths to pinpoint his whereabouts and notify authorities, served as a vital component of his rescue in addition to serving as inspiration to live.
“We don’t do anything alone,” he said. “As remote and as isolated as I was in the bottom of that canyon, what I have learned is that we are never alone. We are always connected. The love that surrounds us, the energy that fills this universe, that is what binds us. We will always have that with us.”
Since narrowly escaping death, Ralston has become the only person to accomplish the feat of climbing the 59 highest mountains of Colorado in winter. He’s the only person with a disability to have skied from the summit of Denali, and the first amputee to row a raft through the Grand Canyon.
Ralston’s story is told in his book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” which served as inspiration for the movie “127 Hours.”
—Justin Haag, CSC Information Services
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