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Life’s about living one’s passion

Alan Braunholtz

What is wrong with these people? Whatever happened to compassion and sympathy? In a word, envy. They’re jealous of his sudden if temporary fame and I think jealous of the man himself.

Sure, in retrospect being alone in a canyon with a boulder on your arm is not a smart goal. But many of my decisions are very dumb in hindsight. How many of us have stepped back after any near miss and not second guessed some decision that put us in harms way – and thanked our good luck?

I usually brush over these hyped-up media “heroes” as merely stories of either people doing their job or dealing with an unavoidable situation. Admittedly they often act with such confidence and resolution that I’m in awe of, but in my mind true heroes make a choice: a dissenting playwright under an oppressive regime; a labor-human rights activist in Central America; a doctor volunteering in some Third World hell hole; Oscar Schindler; someone giving their time to under privileged youth. Read an interview with any of these and you’ll see they didn’t think they had a choice but to act in the way they did. That’s what makes them heroes, I suppose.

Heroes are to some extent dependent on our political views. Anti-abortion demonstrators and Green Peace activists can be viewed as heroes. Maybe that’s why the media loves to latch on to certain individuals and promote them as “heroic.” They can create safe apolitical heroes.

As I read the articles on Aron I became more and more impressed. He’s summitted all of Colorado’s 14ers and 45 of 59 in winter by himself. He’s climbed Denali. Obviously a very skilled mountaineer, one for whom a solo excursion into a few canyons is not an inherently stupid choice. Any more than skiing a glade off a ski run is for most of us.

Mountaineers may be selfish in the heartache they’re prepared to put their loved ones through, but they risk no ones lives but their own. None expect to be rescued. Search and rescue volunteers effectively choose their own risk by volunteering (heroes?) and I’ve never met any who begrudge rescuing someone.

Aron, a three-year veteran of New Mexico’s Albuquerque Rescue Council, presumably put some time in on the other side of bad luck. He has tons of friends and now strangers saying what a great guy he is. And he produced one of the brighter quotes I’ve ever seen regarding adventure sports: “It’s all unnecessary, but at the same time it’s entirely necessary for me.” That sums it all up.

Life is about living one’s passions, and being alone in the mountains is his.

Suddenly it’s “wrong” to be alone in the great outdoors?

I wouldn’t be surprised if all these experts on risk and morality aren’t secretly wishing they had the expertise and courage to explore the wilderness around them without the smothering safety net of cell phones, trucks, other people, etc.

Would any of that have changed the outcome for Aron? Yes, rescue would be quicker, but I’m guessing an arm crushed by a boulder is done, whether it’s five hours or five days. You don’t cut through solid bone with a pocketknife.

Remember, he largely rescued himself, has expressed only words of appreciation for the search and rescue efforts, and so far avoided the glare of publicity as much as possible. If you resent the fame, blame the media not him. Two-armed anonymity beats one-armed fame any day.

There’s an ugly side to us. We love our heroes to have feet of clay. Witness the joyous feeding frenzy that follows any sporting hero who stumbles and sadly reveals our human failings.

Some of us want to condemn one, I think, very impressive young man for engaging in his passion all because of unnecessary risk and wasted money. If so, then we should be fair and start a list of other people who statistically risk their own health to ridicule as morons, too.

Smokers. The obese. The slightly overweight. People who sometimes drive without a seat belt, even for short trips. Anyone who doesn’t wear a helmet, for anything. Someone who plays recreational sports. Gun owners. Dog owners. Cat owners. Owners of SUVs (which are more likely to kill their owners AND other people, not to mention their contribution to the thousands of asthmatic deaths in children due to their lower pollution standards). People who speed. People who tailgate.

Oops, now we’re getting into the whole different issue of increasing risk to others through one’s selfish actions, but you can see what I’m getting at. It’ll be a long list and we’ll all be on it.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.


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