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Dublin: 9 °C Friday 24 October, 2014

Nick Leeson: I’m not a motivational speaker. THIS GUY is.

Former trader Nick Leeson is a regular on the after-dinner speaking circuit – but he was blown away by the story of Aron Ralston, with whom he recently shared a stage…

Nick Leeson

I OFTEN GET asked what I do for a living. The question is usually followed by an awkward pause. How best to answer it? Do they mean what did I used to do or what am I doing now?

I suppose there is no right or wrong answer. Perhaps the two are inextricably entwined as the way that I derive the majority of my income is through talking about my experiences at the bank many years ago and those since in recovering and rebuilding.

Over the years, since my return, I have become a competent after dinner and keynote speaker. I hate to use the words accomplished or good as that is not for me to decide. I speak around the world and have shared the stage with some very famous people and, equally, so many ‘normal’ people who have had fascinating experiences.

The words motivational and inspirational are often used when describing a speaker; I am neither. There are many business gurus who are included in this genre, I’ve spoken with and to them and to be honest I just don’t get it. Yes, they’ve had fantastic success and are business people to be admired but most have the personality of a dead fish. I just don’t get how they inspire and motivate.

There was a speaker recently though that I did find truly inspirational. I may have had some difficulties in my time but nothing compared to what this man had to endure and eventually overcome.

His name meant nothing to me before I met him, although it should have. Our paths would never have crossed other than both being in Gothenburg in Sweden to talk at a conference last month. We were introduced on the 50th floor restaurant of a fairly palatial hotel in the City. He was quiet, very unassuming but the first thing that you notice is that part of his right arm is missing.

“The subject of the movie 127 Hours”

I suppose that’s not totally unusual but the circumstances in which he lost his arm most definitely are. The gentleman’s name was Aron Ralston; author of the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place and also the subject of the movie 127 Hours. I’d seen the movie. I watched it with my wife but as she persevered I had to give up half way through. I am a complete wimp when it comes to watching movies; I think the PG certification on movies was introduced solely for me. I don’t watch anything that’s scary, has too much suspense or is overly squeamish. This movie had me beat well within the first 30 minutes. I joked with Aron that at least now I might be able to finish the story, listening to him the following day as he addressed the audience.

Aron is a fantastic story teller; he graphically recounts how when he was out hiking and descending a slot canyon, a suspended boulder got dislodged, crushing his right hand and pinning him to the wall. As he hadn’t told anybody about his hiking plans he was painfully aware that nobody would be searching for him.

As he tells the story, he relives every single moment of it; the pain is clearly etched on his face. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as he recalled the thought processes that he went through, wondering how he would survive on the small amount of water and food that he had on him that day.

As he runs out of water on the fifth day he has to start drinking his own urine and use that same urine to soften up the last remaining morsel of burrito that was his only nourishment. He tried and failed to amputate his arm on a number of occasions. He made videos of himself saying goodbye to his family and apologising for things that he had done in the past.

On the fifth day, he realised that he may succeed in breaking his radius and ulna bones and continuing the amputation from there. His description of cutting through the nerves in his arm will never leave me. This gruesome act performed, Aron still needed to rappel down a 65-foot sheer wall, one-handed and hike out of the canyon in the hot midday sun before he was truly saved.

“This reminds me a lot of the Irish nation”

Aron Ralston is a truly inspirational man. In my own way before I have described how we all have the power to survive. Aron is far more proof than I will ever be. As a number of people fainted in the audience I was struck at how easily he moves from the obvious pain that he remembers from those times to how his wit and humour could have people laughing in the aisles.

Laughter and humour are very important coping strategies and this reminds me a lot of the Irish nation. With many difficulties to face and the situation getting tougher, I think of the oft-quoted phrase ‘It’ll be grand’.

In 2009, Aron got married and his wife gave birth to their first child in February 2010. If you ever have the chance to meet Aron, you will see that the love and affection that he has for his family and especially for that young boy is completely overpowering. I don’t shed a tear often but there are times when we should, this was one of those.

Read other columns by Nick Leeson>

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