CONCORD, N.C. - Aron Ralston shot to fame nearly 17 years ago when he had to amputate his own hand to survive after he was pinned by a massive 800-pound boulder at the bottom of a canyon in Utah.
Encouraged by the sheer will to live and the desire to his family again, Ralston managed to free himself using a dull two-inch pocketknife, hoist himself out of the canyon, then walked six miles in the direction of his parked truck before he was rescued.
Ralston recounted his harrowing ordeal Thursday at Hendrick Motorsports’ kickoff lunch, where he encouraged those present not to be weighed down by the “boulders” in their lives. As the beginning of the NASCAR season steadily approaches, Ralston said he wants his experience to be a learning platform for any tough circumstances the four Hendricks Motorsports drivers and their teams may encounter in 2020
“I’m hoping mainly that they might be able to hear this message of the choices that we make when something happens,” Ralston said. “Whether it’s an injury or broken parts on a car, that they take it and can receive it with gratitude for the gift that it brings us. That’s what I took from my boulder – that it’s there to help us mature, to grow, to learn. Maybe to open up an opportunity for us in our lives.
“And with that kind of a choice – we choose to make it that, whether than to turn it into a loss or tragedy, but we can actually gain from these kinds of adversities.”
Despite being alone in that canyon for five days, Ralston said focusing on the meaning of his relationships with close family and friends is what kept him going during that desperate time. While that type of intensity doesn’t quite translate to a weekend NASCAR race, Ralston said it was important for Chase Elliott, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman to have complete faith with their respective crews. Their success depends on it.
“Mr. (Rick) Hendrick said it: ‘We are stronger together.’ … As much when I was alone in the canyon, it was all the relationships that sustained me, that carried me through, that I was relying on, that I was speaking to in the video tape that I was making,” Ralston said. “That’s where we draw our strength and our courage and the source of our determination.
“It’s sometimes very literally who we rely on, who we turn to in a crisis – in a moment where we need help … we just know we have people there for us in our lives. Even if we never engage them to come to our assistance, know that we have them as a backup … it gives us a boost. … That’s part of what faith does in our lives – it’s knowing that it’s not just us out here all alone and that there’s something else going on that we’re a part of. Therefore, we have a much greater capacity than what we would.”
Ralston did have a piece of advice for Johnson, who is stepping back from full-time racing at the end of this season. He acknowledged that while change can be scary, Johnson’s attitude approaching this new phase of his life will be what makes or breaks his big career change.
“He and I were talking about that and I think I’m going to take him out hiking in Aspen this summer. We’re going to turn him into a mountaineer. He’ll have a whole new chapter in life,” Ralston joked. “There always going to be these transitions and we can approach them with anxiety, and we can also approach them, I think, with a kind of elevated excitement for what’s around the corner.
“We’re always aging and getting older in our lives. It’s never going to be the same thing that we’ve had. We’re built to adapt and change, and we harness that and make that choice to be in the mindset – the framework- that these are the best things that happen for us, rather than the worst things. It seems like he’s pretty positively minded about that. I wouldn’t say that he’s excited to be retiring, but I just got the sense that he’s someone who, as a lot of people who are champions and who are very successful, that it’s where you put yourself mentally. Are you in this to see that there are good things happening and there are positive things that are developing, rather than seeing change being a negative thing. I think he’s going to be fine.”