By Jill Adler
Aron Ralston puts things in perspective. The Mountain Travel Symposium in Beaver Creek this week presented the man who has gained notoriety for cutting off his arm to save his life as the keynote speaker for the event. My first thought was how is this guy going to make his experience relevant to tour operators, hoteliers and ski club councils? I mean, sure, after eight years he’s now a polished speaker, retelling the intense story of his 127 hours in Southern Utah, but what does this have to do with mountain tourism? If anything wouldn’t it keep you out of the mountains? The answer is that it didn’t really matter.
Ralston not only held the attention of every one of the several hundred attendees, but he brought many to tears. He didn’t have to relate his story to the economic and technological times tour operators are facing. Other speakers and workshops can do that. His message of love, planning (or lack of), and perseverance hits home with a universal audience. “I get hundreds of letters from guys on the edge of ending their lives but they read my book or hear me speak and it turns them around,” said Ralston. As Ralston actually says on stage- It’s not the end; it’s a bend.
Aron Ralston (Subject) Danny Boyle (Dir) James Franco (Act) 127 Hours
So when you’re on the edge of doom, your business is going bust, nothing is how it seems. For five days he believed he was going to die. He recorded himself saying goodbye to his friends and family, and waited. But he didn’t die. He says he had a vision of his future with a blond boy (his son) and knew it wasn’t over. He drank his own urine, cut his skin with a dull pocket knife, leveraged over himself to break his own bones then crawled and hiked in shock for eight hours before rescued. That puts things in perspective. Meaning, if you don’t have to drink your own urine, things really are not that bad. He showed us that we all have it in us if we focus on the love in our lives and the connections we have.
The one thing that hit home for me was when he said that life isn’t about ‘me and the experience’ it’s about my experience with my friends in whatever I do…even though Ralston continues to climb solo- even in the winter. In fact, he went on to be the first person to climb all 53 of Colorado’s 14ers.
I spoke with Aron for a few minutes after his talk. It’s obvious that he’s been this posterboy for survival for a long time now. The words are rehearsed, the questions and answers always the same. Still, as I went to shake his hand then paused and looked up at him, he seamlessly reached out his left hand for me to take. The non-titanium one. There was something in that gesture that conveyed knowing and an ability to empathize. I felt silly in an instant for even thinking about the awkwardness. He wasn’t awkward with it at all. I even asked him if he could trade the life he has now for his arm back would he. He said no. He calls himself a high-functioning disabled person; doctors have even crafted arms for him that can hold a ski pole and have an ice ax on the end. Before the experience he wanted to be a mountain guide and share his passion with others. He joked with me that he always dreamed of becoming famous and having Danny Boyle make a movie about his life. Now, he says, he could never have imagined the platform he has to share, encourage and inspire others.
Jill Adler is an award-winning outdoors writer and broadcaster based in Park City, Utah. As a professional skier, rock climber, kayaker, hiker and mom, she goes out of her way to play hard and tell about it. To find out more or to send her a note, follow her on Twitter @pcskigal.