A half-ton boulder had him in a death grip. For 127 hours, his only options were to sever his right arm with a dull pocketknife or to stand and wait on a three-foot-wide space in a remote canyon in southern Utah, on his grave.
Aron Ralston told his story about perseverance, courage and commitment to over 700 people at Union South’s Varsity Hall Wednesday, as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series program put on by the Wisconsin Union.
“It’s a story that doesn’t need much embellishment,” said Elana Orbuch, a University of Wisconsin junior who attended the event.
Ralston became known for having survived a canyoneering accident in 2003 during which he had to cut off his right arm and climb down 65 feet to get help. The story was adapted to the film “127 Hours” in 2010.
“Whatever your boulder is, I hope my story might do something for you,” Ralston said.
Ralston began his story with an apology for not being actor James Franco, who played him in the “127 Hours.” He showed the part of the movie where a dislodged boulder traps the character and said the clip showed the exact same kind of shock and agony he felt.
But the accident that cost him an arm and almost his life was also “the greatest thing that has ever happened” to him, Ralston said.
Unsure about whether he would make it back home, Ralston used his camera to make a videotape for his family.
“As sad as that was at that moment, that was when the boulder gave me the first gift because that tape showed me who’s really important in my life,” he said.
After surviving more than five days on 350 milliliters of water, two burritos and hours of unsuccessful effort to cut through his arm with a dulled knife, Ralston began to realize he lost all control of the situation.
“I gave up, not hope but control,” Ralston said with a smile. “I found my peace there, when I realized it’s out of my hands.”
He carved “Aron Ralston RIP” and the date on the rock and said goodbyes to his family in the videotape.
On the 127th hour of being trapped alone, he discovered a way out.
He used torque from the boulder that trapped him to break the bones in his right arm.
“When I figured it out, I had this beaming smile, [there was] no hesitation or reluctance,” Ralston said. “You all know I’m the guy who cut his arm off. But what you didn’t know was that I’m the guy who was smiling while cutting his arm off.”
He said people’s boulders, whatever they may be, can also be blessings.
Karen Miskimen, a Madisonian who attended the talk, said she found the speech even more inspirational than she expected.
“He reminds us all that we are capable of great things and that we can find inspiration in our greatest challenges,” Miskimen said.