Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: Paralyzed Woman Hikes The Appalachian Trail Solo

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Whatever battle you are facing today, whatever struggle you are enduring, this story is for you. It’s part of human life to face difficulty, but there is a comfort knowing the strength we can find by encouraging one another through the fire. And when we reference the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell song ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ in our title, we mean less of a literal mountain (unless that is what you are looking to conquer), and more of the will to overcome whatever life throws your way.

Stacey Kozel, a 41 year-old woman from Ohio is a huge inspiration to us and a reminder that nothing in our lives have to be an obstacle unless we allow it. She is hiking the famed Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia over 2100 miles. That’s a great goal in itself, but there’s something else you should know about Stacey – she is paralyzed from the waist down, and is doing the hike solo.

Let’s rewind a few years to understand how this badass woman got to where she is today. At 19 years old, Stacey was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease which causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue. Since being diagnosed, Stacey would have “flare-ups” every so often, but nothing major until March 2014 when it attacked her legs.

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She ended up in hospital and within a few days had lost all mobility. She told the Washington Post it took three people to help her even sit up.

“I regained core and arm strength. But with my legs, it’s permanent paralysis from now on,” she said.

Not long before this devastating flare-up, Stacey had completed a course to become a radiology technician, but her final exam would require her to stand on her feet, which would now be impossible with her immobility. She started researching certain types of leg braces and found the Ottobock C-Brace.

This brace is probably best described as the Tesla of all leg braces, because it has amazing technology. A microprocessor allows the hydraulics to function like a regular leg, allowing the user to walk as if they were in control. Stacey was stoked with what she found, but the price of $75,000 for each brace was far too expensive.

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She tried going through insurance to cover the costs, but initially was denied because they decided her having such a leg brace to continue her quality of life was not a necessity. It took an entire year to continue applying for insurance despite consistent denials, before she was successful. So while many of us focus on finding the best runner leggings or nicer shoes to complement our workout sessions, this heroic woman was facing a different battle.

Once Stacey received the braces, she learned to walk in a whole new way, relying much more on upper body strength. After adjusting to her newfound mobility, Stacey eventually decided she wanted to hike the longest footpath in the world. The Appalachian trail stretches across 14 states from Georgia to Maine with a staggering 464,500-foot change in elevation throughout the journey.

She started the hike in March, and although much slower than others, she is determined to finish. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy reports only 1 in 4 hikers finish the journey, but that will not deter this strong-willed woman.

“Everyone keeps bringing up the 1 in 4 ratio of people finishing the trail, but I think what actually helps me is remembering what it was like in the hospital, not being able to move at all. Just remembering that experience helps me with the mental part of the ups and downs of the trail,” she told the WaPo.

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Although she set out to complete the hike solo, Stacey has met many people along the way, some of whom have helped her in desperate times. Her leg braces cannot get wet, and during a rainy spell, she had to camp out in her tent for 2 days straight while the battery on the braces started to drain. Thankfully she met other hikers who pointed out a shortcut and allowed her to get back on the trail without being stranded.

In a blog entry on Lupus.org, Stacey shares some details of her journey, including the difficulties, her best and worst days, as well as what she believes is the most important message about what she is doing.

“I believe everyone is going through something and I hope when people see my story or see me out on the trail that they do not give up on whatever they are going through (no matter if it is a similar situation or something else). Two years (even a year ago) not too many people would have imagined I would be able to hike the Appalachian Trail. Now, I have already made it through Georgia, North Carolina and almost through Tennessee. I know I will have more obstacles ahead, but I feel we never know what we can accomplish if we give up too soon. I like to think possibilities are endless,” she said.

Words to live by indeed, and we are so thankful for people like Stacey whose story of determination are nothing short of inspiring. As she continues her journey, you can follow along on her public Facebook Page which she updates regularly, with photos, milestones and updates on what she is experiencing.

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Stacey Kozel: The Paralyzed Woman Hiking the Appalachian Trail

  2. They are very persistent and very hardworking. I like their mind
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  3. Your post is great and meaningful. Thank you for sharing this article. I would like to receive better and better articles.

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