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Famous climber visits valley students

Amanda Holt MillerWestern Garfield County Staff

Hundreds of youth from throughout the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys were honored when Aspen adventurer Aron Ralston met with them Wednesday. Ralston spoke at a special assembly at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. The students, all part of the Safe School Ambassador program, received acknowledgment for their bravery and courage in helping keep their schools safe. They were rapt as they heard Ralston speak.Safe School Ambassadors showed up in yellow school buses from Basalt elementary and middle schools, Bridges High School, Kathryn Senor Elementary, Riverside Middle School, and Rifle middle and high schools.The Safe School Ambassador program trains students to recognize bullying. Students are taught how to intervene to try to change the culture of the school from within.For almost an hour, students between the ages of 9 and 18 sat still and quiet, entranced by Ralston’s story. Ralston went on a solo adventure outside Moab, Utah, two years ago without telling anyone where he was going. He was experienced at conquering difficult terrain by himself: He’d climbed 45 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot-or-higher peaks by himself in the winter.But something happened in the desert Ralston didn’t count on. While he was hiking through a narrow canyon near Moab, a boulder came loose, crushing his right arm between the boulder and the canyon wall.Ralston asked the students if they’d ever smashed their fingers in the car door. Hands went up at every banquet table.”Imagine that pain,” Ralston said. “Then imagine a pain 10 times that bad. That’s how it felt.”He explained that his wrist was squeezed so tightly, it was about the width of his pinkie finger.”I panicked,” Ralston said. “That’s a natural reaction. Whenever you feel like you’re in a lot of trouble or in a lot of pain, you panic.”Ralston told the students that he had to calm himself down if he hoped to live.”I was adrenalized into this rage and this energy. I started pushing on the rock, trying to lift it with my knee, push it. I was hitting it and cursing. But I wasn’t doing anything useful.”Ralston said he subscribes to the acronym STOP – stop, think, observe, plan. He brainstormed four ways he could escape. After six agonizing days, Ralston was dehydrated, sleep-deprived and certain he would die. Then he had an epiphany. He broke the bones in his arm and used a pocket knife to amputate it. After he rappelled one-handed down a 65-foot cliff, he found a family that helped him.After all he went through, Ralston persevered. And on top of that, just a little more than a month ago, Ralston achieved a goal he’d been working on: climbing the last of Colorado’s 14,000-foot-plus mountains, by himself, in the winter. He was the first to do it solo. When Ralston finished his story, the students and teachers in the room stood to applaud him.”He’s kind of like my new hero,” said Scott Hayden, a fourth-grader at Kathryn Senor. “I shook his hand and got his autograph.”Cole Newton, a sixth-grader at Riverside Middle School, said he thought Ralston was inspirational. He also said he felt that what Ralston said about his situation could apply to what he does as a Safe School Ambassador.”We have to be courageous in what we’re saying and be able to express ourselves,” Cole said. Students had an opportunity to stand and say something about the Safe School Ambassadors program after Ralston spoke. Many thanked their teachers and talked about how the program improved their lives and the culture at their schools.Rifle High School junior Melissa Miller said she felt like Ralston’s story really offered perspective.”So many things happen during the day at school that seem so big,” she said. “Hearing his story makes me think none of that is so bad.”Contact Amanda Holt Miller: 625-3245, ext. 103ahmiller@postindependent.com


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