Aron Ralston, the outdoorsman who famously amputated his own arm after being trapped beneath a boulder, spoke at Union South Wednesday as part of the Wisconsin Union Directorate Distinguished Lecture Series to discuss his accident and the effect it has had on his life.
Ralston told the emotional story of his accident, which is the subject of his bestselling book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” and the acclaimed 2010 film “127 Hours” starring James Franco.
While canyoneering in southern Utah in 2003, Ralston became trapped in a narrow slot canyon when a falling boulder crushed his hand. He remained there for almost six days before cutting his arm off with a dull pocketknife and hiking and repelling another five hours to reach rescuers.
His speech was punctuated with humor self-deprecation—he apologized for being less handsome than James Franco and described himself as “socially awkward” and “a bit of a geek” after making several “Lord of the Rings” references—but his core message was clear.
“I hope that whatever is going on in your life, whatever your boulder is, that my story might do something for you and might be there if you’re encountering adversity in whatever shape and form it comes,” Ralston said.
Ralston said he hopes his story will teach people about considering the consequences of their decisions and valuing the important things in life, the people.
“It really put a lot of things in perspective … when you assess what’s going on in your life as a college student,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison sophomore Jesse Pollans. “The speech really made me really thankful for the stuff that I do have, whether it’s family or friends or really anything. It was really uplifting.”
Despite his challenges, Ralston’s love for climbing and outdoor activities remains strong, and his experience has inspired him to become an advocate for wilderness protection and a volunteer with search-and-rescue crews.
“As much as it is a pleasure to enrich our lives, I have also learned that it’s not enough,” he said. “We have to do the work to enrich the lives of those around us.”