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Aron Ralston inspires hope, resilience on campus

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Photo courtesy of Lauren Papucci

Photo courtesy of Lauren Papucci

Mountain climber, motivational speaker and adventure-seeker Aron Ralston spoke to an audience of about 1,000 students, staff and community members Thursday evening at the Varsity Theatre to share the story that inspired the 2010 film “127 hours.”

Trapped in a remote canyon in the summer of 2003, Ralston was forced to cut off his own arm to escape what he said seemed like his pre-made grave. In Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, he climbed through tight crevices within the canyons roughly eight miles from his car and a dirt road. He was using a boulder to stabilize himself while changing positions in the crevice when suddenly the rock shifted and fell, pinning him to the canyon wall.

He used his hand to protect his face while he dropped more than 10 feet deeper into the crevice and found his hand trapped by the boulder. His right hand was instantly smashed to the size of a cardboard piece of paper.

“Most of you know I am the man who cut off his arm,” he said. “But no one knows I was the man who was smiling while doing it.”

Ralston walked the audience through the events that led up to the accident and what it was like to endure 127 hours in the canyon.

During his time in the canyon, Ralston made a video saying goodbye to loved ones and reminiscing.

“That video camera kept me alive,” he said. “It gave me hope and helped me to realize at the end of my life what really mattered — the people.”

Ralston carved his tombstone epitaph on the cave wall where he was trapped.

“I really thought I wasn’t going to make it, so I carved my name, the date and (the words) ‘rest in peace,’” he said. “When I woke up the next morning, I was like, ‘Oh crap. I’m still here. This is pathetic – I really have to get out now.’”

Later during the 127-hour span he was trapped under the boulder, he had a vision of what he calls a miracle.

“I saw me and my son in the future,” he said. “Once I saw him, his blue eyes and me picking him up, I knew without a doubt I had to escape. There was no other option. I wasn’t going to die in this canyon alone.”

Ralston explained to the audience that when he finally escaped the crevice, he felt liberated.

“Once I got free, I stepped out of my grave and into my life again,” he said. “I found that the boulder was my blessing. It gave me my life back.”

Ralston had orginally tried to chip away the rock instead.

“I was chipping away for hours, and accomplished about the size of a golf ball,” he said. “I was wasting energy and resources.”

Prior to the accident, the most medical training the climber had was “watching a few episodes of ER.” He had limited water, a dull pocket knife his mother got him from Wal-Mart and minimal clothing.

“I originally tried to cut my arm with my dull pocket knife,” he said. “But once I got to the bone, I had to position myself so that the boulder itself cracked my bones.”

“It was so hot in the desert climbing and biking that I only wore a t-shirt and shorts,” he said.

Ralston said at night it got as cold as 40 degrees in the crevice, and he had to drink his own urine because his water supply was so low.

“That really puts you in perspective,” he said. “Today, my plane was delayed and people were freaking out. I thought it was a little funny when I really thought about it.”

Mary Maruggi, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences and speakers commissioner for Marquette Student Government, attended the event.

“I enjoyed the event from start to finish,” she said. “Aron was very in touch with our campus, and he really enjoyed his day here, including a classroom discussion and an incredible tour of the engineering building.”

Maruggi said she was inspired by Ralston.

“(The event) wasn’t just a lecture – it was a conversation,” she said.  “He didn’t want students to sit in awe of his mental and physical strength. He wanted us to reflect on our boulders and help us get past them in anyway possible.”

After the event, Ralston hosted a meet and greet and book signing for his 2004 book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

“Aron Ralston was truly inspiring and overall a fantastic speaker,” Maruggi said. “I learned that all of the boulders we have in life are just big stepping stones making us into the people we are meant to be. Boulders can only stop us if we let them.”

Correction: The quote in this story that begins “Aron Ralston was truly inspring…” was initially misattributed to Lauren Papucci. The quote was in fact said by Mary Maruggi. The Tribune regrets the error.

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