Saturday, December 4, 2010

Could you cut your own arm off to save your life?

I'm not sure I could. I've been thinking about courage and trauma a lot since watching the film "127 hours" last night with my wife. The actor James Franco is excellent as Aron Ralston and the film is well worth seeing. I was a bit disappointed by some aspects of it but inspired by the incredible degree of raw, elemental brilliance that Ralston brought to his predicament.

Ralston's presence of mind and level of courage are incredible. A film like this is obviously deeply personal for the viewer and, while I don't mean to compare myself too directly with Ralston, it's hard not to reflect on one's own traumas after watching a film like this. What would I have done? What would have happened to me if the driver of the car that hit me had not stopped to call the paramedics? While I was told that I was conscious for at least a part of the time between accident and hospital, I have no memory of it at all. Would I have died lying there on the side of the road? Would I have been able to communicate productively with anyone or solve any of my own problems? I fear not.

As a result of my injuries, I was completely dependent on others to get me to the hospital and put me back together again. The balance between life and death is so precarious and some of us are incredibly lucky to have a second (or third or fourth) chance to get it right. Most inspirational, perhaps, is what Ralston has done after the accident. He has not let having one hand get in the way of his love for climbing and adventure one bit. I hope that all athletes who suffer serious or potentially debilitating injuries doing what they love to do are able to make adaptations to get right back out there as Ralston has done. It's certainly my plan.

How much discomfort, pain and suffering can a person endure? What is humanly possible? These are questions that have informed my approach to life in general and my cycling in particular for some time. Ralston's life didn't end with his fall in Blue John Canyon, but he claims that it is now divided into "before" and "after." I'm beginning to think that way myself. I hope that when Aron goes on solo hikes he not only leaves a note behind, but also that he might throw a SPOT tracker in his pocket just in case. 

Coincidentally, Outside Magazine has just published an article by Ralston on the filming of the movie along with an interview with James Franco. I'm a sucker for survival and endurance stories so I've also downloaded Ralston's book Between a Rock and a Hard Place to my Kindle and look forward to reading it this week.


  1. Great post, George! I have read Ralston's book and his story of survival is remarkable.

  2. Hi Mary - Thanks! His book is next on the runway ready for takeoff. Looking forward to reading this weekend.