Spending an hour with Aron Ralston of “127 Hours”

ImageI wrote a story for the Capital Times this morning about Aron Ralston’s talk at the UW-Madison Wednesday night. It was a packed house, but you could have heard a pin drop at times as Ralston recounted the story (immortalized in “127 Hours”) of his ordeal in Utah, when he was pinned by a boulder for nearly six days before finally freeing himself by cutting his arm off.

I’ve seen the film twice and so am familiar with the story, but it was striking how different it was to hear the man himself tell the tale. He’s probably told it hundreds of times (and the theme of the talk was sort of a motivational pep talk about learning from our own “personal boulders”) but it was still riveting to watch him act out how he cut himself free, or re-enact the farewell message he left to his parents on his camcorder.

There was also some backstory about what his parents were doing while he was missing that was left out of the movie. Ralston said that on the fifth day he was missing, his boss at work called his mother looking for him. Knowing something was wrong, she called all his friends and hacked his email account, eventually figuring out that he was in southern Utah and calling the authorities.

At the exact moment he was breaking his arm so he could cut himself loose, a search party had found the truck. And that family he runs into while staggering through the canyon were on the lookout for him, which is why the helicopter arrived so fast. Ralston said if he had freed himself an hour earlier or an hour later, he would have missed the search party and likely bled to death.

His talk also had some moments of gallows humor that weren’t in the film. When that family found him, the dad offered him a bottled water. Ralston took it in his one remaining hand, and the two men stared at it silently for about ten seconds — before the dad finally realized his error and hastily removed the cap for him.

It was a very inspiring speech. Interestingly, Ralston goes back to that spot every year to visit the boulder (this April will be the 10th anniversary of his ordeal), to be reminded of “the intensity of the darkness, and the joy of stepping into the light.”

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