Aron Ralston’s Granby presentation was moving
March 5, 2009
That Aron Ralston possessed the wherewithal to amputate his right arm to free himself from certain death speaks volumes about the man, though no more than he had to say for himself on Tuesday, Feb. 24, during a visit to Granby.
Ralston’s extraordinary “Between a Rock and Hard Place” presentation in the Middle Park High School auditorium was well attended and well received, judging by the standing ovation the audience gave him at the conclusion of the show.
A little background: Ralston was thrust into the limelight in spring 2003 . After being trapped for six days by an 800-pound boulder that shifted and crushed his right arm against a slot canyon wall in the Utah wilderness, he amputated his arm with a pocket knife and hiked eight miles back to the trailhead, a “hike” that involved a 65-foot rappel.
As his personable presentation made clear, a great deal more than that was involved. Count me among the outdoor enthusiasts in the crowd who, upon listening to Ralston explain the freak way in which he became trapped, couldn’t help but think: “There but for the grace of God.”
How many times hiking or peak bagging alone, having left no instructions to anyone or only a sketchy itinerary behind, could a broken ankle or fall or rock slide have stranded or trapped me miles from help with little chance anyone would find me? The answer is far more times than I’m comfortable admitting.
I was working on the news desk of daily newspaper in Idaho when Ralston’s story came across the wire. It was what we hard-bitten types refer to as a “Hey, Martha,” as in, “Hey, Martha, did you read the story about …?”
We rearranged that day’s edition to give the story prominent play because of its compelling human interest, triumph in the face of adversity and our outdoor-oriented readers. Not long afterwards, we gave another story similar play.
It was about a local clergyman whose foot was trapped during a small rock slide in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains. Hiking alone with his dog, he was unable to free himself but left behind a journal of his final thoughts. The dog eventually led searchers to his body.
In both stories, the men facing death held one thought foremost: Family and friends. And what particularly drove these stories home for me is that I’ve hiked in both those places, sometimes alone. But Ralston’s account and framing of the incident moved me unexpectedly.
As he stood trapped in that canyon, 40 pounds lighter and certain of imminent death on that final fateful morning, he recounted hearing a voice telling him to break his arm and cut it off. He said he wasn’t sure if the voice was internal or external, his or God’s ” “call it what you will” ” but he was suddenly buoyed by an exultant hope that he was going to survive.
He then recounted in grim detail ” the smile on his face, the calculated way in which he went about breaking the two bones in his forearm ” how he performed his gruesome wilderness surgery. With his arm finally free, he involuntarily stepped back, the first time he was able to move like that in six days, a step “out of the grave.”
Recalling some aspects of his ordeal clearly is still not easy for Ralston, who paused a few times to collect himself. It made the telling that much more poignant.
So, too, did his observation that now, having survived this remarkable ordeal, he was more certain than ever that he is meant to be here, to be alive on this earth, that his life has purpose.
Only now, the haunting question remains, louder and more insistent than ever: WHY?
Without putting too fine a point on it, Ralston offered an observation: Incidents such as this seem to be the worst moments of our lives while we are experiencing them. But in retrospect, many times they turn out to be profoundly instructive, cathartic or otherwise life-changing.
As he put it, gesturing enthusiastically with the stump of his right arm, after a couple years he realized, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Certainly puts in perspective some of the comparatively petty things many of us fret about, worries that often never materialize.
The adventurer urged the audience to push past “the boulders in their lives” and see what epiphany awaits on the other side. I, for one, am going to try.
And I’m sure never going to hike alone again without leaving detailed instructions about where I can be found.
” Drew Munro can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19610 or email@example.com.
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