By Mason Poepperling
Hutchinson has been the host of many great speakers throughout the years thanks to the Dillon Lecture Series, but this year’s third speaker may go down as one of the greatest.
For the latest lecture, HutchCC hosted adventurer and mountaineer Aron Ralston, who survived after getting his arm pinned by a boulder at the bottom of Bluejohn Canyon in Wayne County, Utah for five days.
Prior to his accident, Aron’s main focus was to become the first person to climb all 59 of Colorado’s Fourteeners (mountain peaks surpassing 14,000 feet) solo in the wintertime. This project of his led him to many of the country’s greatest sights.
“There’s a lot of favorites among the high mountains of Colorado. It’s why I love living in Colorado is because of the particular nature of the high peaks there,” Ralston said. “I’ve climbed all around the country and all around the world, and still coming back and being in the high mountains in Colorado in general is my favorite. The mountains around Aspen especially – that’s why I moved there in 2002, which was a precursor to what was to happen in 2003. It’s definitely a major part of my adult life, I was trying to find something that fit for me and my passions and also was something I felt like I could leave a mark on and accomplish.”
In the years since having to sever his own appendage at the bottom of Bluejohn Canyon, Ralston has found ways to take his story and turn it into a positive, using his words to inspire others who have their own difficulties in life. He uses the boulder he had to face in his life as a metaphor for the difficulties others face and showing how we can overcome them, while also giving examples of how he’s overcome his own adversities in the process.
“These boulders in our lives, they take a lot of different shapes and forms,” Ralston said. “When it comes to these boulders, sometimes they can look like mental health issues just as much as other kinds of physical ailments, loss, grief, or trauma. I found I could reach people who might find themselves in a dark place in their lives and to give them maybe a sense that they’re able to move through whatever they’re experiencing and find something positive about it.
“In my early years, bullying and being ostracized by my peers was one of the big ones for me as far as adversity goes. Part of my compensation was to then just achieve, weather it was academically or athletically after school, in my career and then going into athletics because that was this hanging chad that I felt like I wasn’t good enough because I hadn’t even made the JV team in lacrosse at my high school, so I wanted to prove that I was good enough, and when you have something like that kind of going on with your ego – as I did, even today in my adult years still – that to then have an amputation and now be wondering ‘Well, if I wasn’t enough before, could I possibly still be enough now?’
“So to return to finishing the fourteeners even with my amputation, which I did, but then moving beyond that and going into even larger scale adventures and expeditions, it was both momentarily fulfilling and also left me still with this wondering about whether I was enough so you could see that that would just leave you back to the same place where you find yourself in yet another Blue John Canyon.”
In the years after Ralston’s accident, not only did he write a New York Times best-selling memoir, but he also got to have an experience that very few people have ever received: a film based on his life.
“When we were not only in the sound stage set where it was a replica canyon, but when we actually went out to the real canyon and shot for a week out there, it was like being a ghost inside of my own memory,” Ralston said. There would be times where the crew would be set up and James Franco’s wearing my clothes and my hat and his arms all bloody and there’s the rock, and we’re in that spot and they would let me get up so that I was suspended 20-25 feet off the floor of the canyon out of the shot but directly above. So it was like I was the raven in the canyon looking down at my own body, witnessing this experience that I had but from a slightly different vantage point. It was trippy and very powerful to experience it from an outsider’s perspective of watching it and being like ‘Woah, look at what that guy’s doing.’”
Ralston’s story is one of great courage and tenacity.