Being pinned by a half-ton boulder to a canyon wall in the deserts of Utah would be enough to deter most people.
Now take away food, substantial water and cell phones, and add intense heat and pain. Most of us probably wouldn’t be able to survive for more than a day or two. Aron Ralston not only beat these odds by surviving, but he did so for nearly six days. Now, eight years later almost to the day, he has written a best-selling book and had an Oscar-nominated movie made about his story.
Ralston came to Ohio State Monday to speak about his book, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” and to share his story of surviving 127 hours trapped in a desert canyon. As students awaited Ralston’s talk in the Archie Griffin Grand Ballroom, they murmured about the 35-year-old rock climber who was to share his inspirational story and words of wisdom.
Kayla Krocker, a first-year undecided major, shared in this excitement.
“I’m really looking forward to hearing how Ralston tells his story,” Krocker said. “I’ve seen ‘127 Hours,’ but I’d like to hear his journey directly from him, rather than from media.”
Ashley Cornett, a first-year in biology, said she was curious as to how Ralston would tell his tale.
“I want to know how desperate he must have felt being trapped in that canyon for so long,” Cornett said. “I wonder if there was a defining moment for him that gave him the strength to keep holding on.”
Ralston did not disappoint his audience.
“I know what you’re all thinking: ‘Oh my gosh, we get to listen to that one dude who cut his hand off!”
After the laughter died down, Ralston confirmed that yes, he did amputate his own hand.
“But my story isn’t just about that,” he said. “It’s about how the will to love is sometimes more powerful than the will to live.”
Ralston showed pictures and told the audience about the places he hiked in Colorado in April 2003. He said he had to park his truck nearly eight miles from where he hiked and biked the rest of the way to the canyon.
Ralston then explained the predicament he is now famous for escaping. After using a truck tire-sized boulder to hold onto while descending into the cave, he accidentally dislodged it from the two canyon walls it was pinned between. The rock tumbled towards Ralston and, just missing his head, and smashed his right hand against the cave wall.
“There’s a moment before the pain gets to your brain and all you feel is shock,” Ralston said. “I had one of those moments standing at the bottom of that canyon. And then the pain flooded in.”
It became evident very quickly that his hand was stuck permanently under the boulder.
“I did everything I could to survive, but it became apparent to me very early on that no help was coming,” Ralston said.
He said he decided within the first hour of being trapped that he’d have to cut off his arm but was worried about whether or not he’d survive the long trek back to his truck afterward. He spoke of the video that he made as a means to convey his last goodbyes to his family and friends.
“If you had a way to communicate with someone from your grave, who would you talk to?” Ralston said. “What would you say?”
Ralston said on his third day of being trapped, he began his first attempt to cut off his arm, but failed because the knife he had was too dull. He said he lost strength, energy and hope quickly. He said he reduced to drinking his own urine and contemplated suicide.
Finally, Ralston said he decided that he was not going to take his own life.
“As miserable as my story was bound to get,” he said. “I decided that I was going see it through to the end.”
Ralston said the only thing that kept him fighting was an “out of body experience” that he had on the fifth day in which he saw himself embracing his future baby boy.
In the morning of the sixth day (the 127th hour), Ralston decided that he had to break the bones in his arm before trying to cut it off again. It was a painful process, he said, but after having accomplished the amputation, Ralston said he had the biggest smile on his face.
“I was happy because I knew that if I was in that much pain, I was still alive,” he mused with a grin.
After telling audience members about his hike back through the desert and the rescue helicopter that eventually found him, he explained what truly kept him alive.
“It was passion that brought me to that canyon in Utah,” he said. “And it was passion that delivered me out of it.
“This story is a blessing to me because it’s taught me about what’s really important in life,” he said. “It’s not just about what you do or how successful you are, it’s about the relationships you have and your ability to appreciate others.”
In closing, Ralston encouraged his audience members to stay true to their values, and not to waver when “boulders” of all sorts get in their way.
“Stay true to who you are so that no matter what happens, you will have your integrity in the end,” Ralston said. “There will always be adversity. The trick is being able to appreciate and learn from it when it shows up.”