Ralston, Brokaw make audience squirm, laugh | AspenTimes.com

Ralston, Brokaw make audience squirm, laugh

Naomi Havlen
Tom Brokaw and Aron Ralston share a laugh on the stage of the Wheeler Opera House Friday evening during a benefit for local charities. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

Aron Ralstons story, now legendary around the world, is still one that makes large audiences cringe.The Aspenite, who saved his life in the spring of 2003 by amputating his own arm alone in the Utah wilderness, has since traveled the world to tell his story. He returned to his hometown on Friday night to tell it once more. Aron Ralston: An Aspen Homecoming brought the accomplished climber to the packed Wheeler Opera House with broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw as a benefit for four local charities.Its clear that Ralston has survived the international media crush that descended on his harrowing story almost two years ago, and partly with help from Brokaw. According to Aspen resident and renowned mountain climber Neal Beidleman, who introduced the pair to the audience, Ralston and his parents spent months choosing a national journalist to work with before settling on the longtime anchorman of the NBC Nightly News.Brokaw and Ralston were fast friends, connecting because of a mutual love of the outdoors and exchanging stories about their favorite climbs. Together they visited the site of the amputation, deep within Utahs Blue John Canyon, filming their experience for a two-hour Dateline NBC special.The moment when Ralston realized he could snap his own bones before cutting through his flesh to free himself was addressed up front on Friday night: Ralston and Brokaw aired footage of their visit to the canyon, where Ralston described freeing himself in the exact location where the event happened.I said I wasnt going to die right there, Ralston told the rapt audience, describing the moment he freed himself. The pain was a beautiful sensation that I was free.But much of the evening was spent with Brokaw interviewing Ralston on his life now and how it has changed since his six days alone in the desert.This is a lot more than what we refer to in the media as a Holy cow! story, Brokaw said. There are a lot of lessons about courage, family, and why we go into the wilderness.Ralston has spent the last four months on an international tour to promote his book Between a Rock and a Hard Place and climbing peaks in Colorado and South America. He said he tackles this newfound celebrity by trying to be a selfull person rather than selfish or selfless taking time for himself and his own needs while using his story to inspire others.In fact, Ralston seems to take the responsibility to help others through his own tale so seriously that he says he wouldnt change a thing about his experience in the desert.This wouldnt be a miracle if I changed anything about it it would eliminate the power this story has to save peoples lives who are clinically depressed and want to end their lives, to make people read books, take piano lessons or even quit their jobs and move to Aspen, he said.Although Ralston spoke about courage in the face of fear, vivid visions he experienced in his desert delirium and coming to terms with the consequences of the risks he takes in the wilderness, the evening held many lighthearted moments where his relationship with Brokaw was palpable.I sent Aron a knife for his birthday made by one of my neighbors in Montana, Brokaw said. I wrote a note with them that said Do not use to cut off other body parts.Ralston has revisited the place where his life changed several times, both with Brokaw and with friends. He considers the eight-mile journey a pilgrimage and showed footage he has taken on the journey with friends. In the films he scrambles through the slot canyons while goofing off with buddies, laughs when a friend rips his pants, jumps into a mud puddle unexpectedly and enjoys stiff margaritas at the end of the day.Its still a very intense place for me to be, he said. Its my death and my grave, but its also the womb, the gestation, and my rebirth.Naomi Havlens e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com

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