A Long Trail to Healing Niki Rellon is on a journey to become the first amputee to hike 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail. This is her story.

Healing takes a unique path for everyone. For Niki Rellon, a below-the-knee amputee, recovery from a climbing accident (a 40-foot fall) is happening one step at a time along the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail.

Niki, with the trail name of “Bionic Woman,” is a life-long athlete—a skier, climber, competitive boxer, and notably, a German Women’s Welterweight Kick Boxing Champion. She’s solo-ridden a bike from Alaska to Mexico City and backpacked the entire Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada by herself. She’s made a living as a certified Paramedic, ski instructor and ski patrol in Colorado, among other things.

But in a tragic instant, life as she knew it changed forever.

Niki Rellon

In a single moment, an incident during a rappeling expedition led to a 40-foot fall, breaking her pelvis, cracking her helmet in two and demolished her left foot so badly amputation was required. After her accident, she spent months in doctor and PT offices, learning to walk again with a prosthetic leg and working to gain muscle strength.
“I found myself depressed and dependent on pain meds,” Niki recalls.

Niki decided that hiking the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail would be her form of recovery, rehab and a way to reclaim her adventurous life. But the Appalachian Trail is notoriously difficult. Each year around 2000 people attempt the trail and only about 10% make it. Many quit within the first two weeks. Plus, Niki didn’t receive much support for the plan. “All I would hear from the doctors and my parents was ‘You cannot do…You cannot hike.’” Niki said.

“All I would hear from the doctors and my parents was ‘You cannot do…You cannot hike.’”

Undeterred she took to the trail in March of 2015 with the fundamental belief that fresh air and her goal to complete the trail can help her heal, regain her strength and become 100% medication-free in the process. Now with over 1000 miles under her belt, Niki is likely to become the first one-legged woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

 

Niki’s journey toward healing started in March of 2015 on Springer Mountain in Georgia at the southern tip of the iconic trail.  “It was hard to have people pass me on the trail. I used to hike any pace, averaging 43 miles a day on the PCT, but my first day on AT, I only hiked 7 miles,” she recalled.

 

Pain & Suffering

But, after one week, Niki was forced off the trail with persistent blisters on her residual limb. She had to take a break. During that time, Niki visited a Bulow Orthotic Prosthetic Solutions in Columbia, SC, where she was fit for a Revofit™ prosthetic socket. She was first fit with a temporary check socket, which she wore while Click Medical manufactured a custom Revofit™ socket with a Boa Technology-powered closure.

“Thanks to Click Medical and RevoFit, I have a new socket with Vacuum system and the Boa Closure System. The Boa dial is so helpful because I am swollen in the morning, but throughout the day my circulation improves and I can just tighten the dial while I am hiking for the perfect fit.”

Niki’s new Revofit socket was shipped to her on the trail and she was refit at another Bulow office. “I am so happy for Click Medical, Boa, Bulow and the new Revofit socket…it’s truly making the trail possible,” Niki reported.

 

 

Back on the Trail

Life on the trail consists of route finding, calorie intake and managing health and safety much like her fellow hikers on the trail. However, her slower pace and medical setbacks have her coming up short on her mileage goals. Fervently committed to her goal, she opted for an alternate route via the Shenandoah River in which she paddled 50 miles of the trail giving her leg a much-needed rest.

Back on her feet in mid-June, it was clear that she was still not on pace to finish before the north end of the trail (Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine) closes for the winter on October 15th. She decided to do a ‘flip-flop’– when an AP hiker splits their trek, leaving the trail in the middle and starting again from the north end of the trail, and hiking south to finish where they left off. Because the north end of the trail is only open from mid-May to mid-October, a Flip-flop allows the hiker additional time to finish the trail in a single season. In West Virginia, Niki bid the trail goodbye and caught a bus headed north.

 

Flip Flop

There is good reason that the north end of trail closes early. On Niki’s second day heading south, she learned firsthand how quickly the weather can change. As she was descending off Mt. Baxter, she was caught in a wet and windy storm with gusts over 80 miles per hour. She was literally being blown off the mountain. She had no choice, but to hunker down in her sleeping bag and call for help. A ranger came to her aid and the pair was able to escape to lower elevation. Unfortunately, the long wait in wet sub-zero temperatures resulted in frostbite to Niki’s toes and fingers. She was forced to take yet another recovery break of several days.

She was literally being blown off the mountain.

Now (early August), Niki is back on the trail and making progress. Her sights are still set on becoming the first female amputee to finish the AT thru-hike. However she has already accomplished her main objective – to regain her strength and become med-free. Niki expects to finish in late October or early November.

Support Niki

Check back for updates about the Bionic Woman and her stories from the trail. Want to help? Support Niki’s journey by donating to her CrowdRise fundraiser. Contributions go to directly to food, supplies and unexpected costs that Niki encounters on the trail. Funds are greatly appreciated and make a world of difference.

GO NIKI!

'Bionic Woman' Visits Berkshire Amid Appalachian Trail Hike

 

 

Posted 10/26/2015 03:01PM

Niki Rellon is 600 miles from becoming the first female leg amputee to hike the entire 2,200 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail.

On Monday morning, Rellon took respite from her adventure to share her powerful story with Berkshire students, faculty and staff gathered for the All-School meeting in Allen Theater.

“On the trail, there’s no excuse,” Rellon told the crowd.

Last spring, the 40-year-old set out to conquer the scenic east coast trail that stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. 

The adventure began just 18-months after Rellon broke her sternum, spine and pelvis and lost the lower half of her left leg to amputation following a rock climbing accident in Utah.  

“New doors open up,” Rellon said while sharing photographs of her injuries. “I’ve done all kinds of things, so now I have a new challenge. I see it in a positive way.”

Prior to her injury, Rellon, a German-born Colorado resident, hiked the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail stretching from Mexico to Canada, competed as a world-champion kick-boxer and is currently training for a spot on the 2018 U.S. Paralympic team as a snowboarder.

Two members of the Berkshire community who share personal, yet similar stories joined Rellon on stage. 

Insha Afsar ’18, a second year Berkshire student, lost her left leg following an earthquake in her native Pakistan when she was just five years old. Today, Afsar is a member of the championship-winning Berkshire downhill ski team and hopes to compete in the Paralympics.

Sydney Satchell, a coach and instructor in the Kenefick Center for Learning, lost part of her left leg in an automobile accident last winter. Like Rellon, Satchell said resilience has been one of the keys to overcoming her injury.

“I was a champion. I was going to overcome,” said Satchell. “It’s mental toughness and a great attitude.”

Rellon, meanwhile, plans to pick up the trail again where she left off, in Kent, Connecticut. Traveling between 10-12 miles each day—a pace Rellon jokes earned her the nickname "trail snail'— she hopes to arrive at the end of her trip in Glasgow, Virginia, on or before her birthday on December 4.

When asked by a Berkshire faculty member what has been the toughest part of the hike so far, Rellon quickly responded, “Katadhin.”
 
“It took my hiking stick, my Swiss Army knife and my water bottle,” she said laughing.


Special thanks to Shelton Reichardt '68 of Dillon, Colorado for sharing Rellon's story with us.

EPISODE 27: SUPERWOMAN

In Episode 27, You think you’re tough?  Well Niki Rellon just might have you beat!  Niki’s sports pursuits include professional kickboxing, ski instructing, cross-country cycling, thru-hiking, and currently a six month journey on the Appalachian Trail.  Did I mention that she is doing it on one leg?  Well now you know.

In the podcast, Niki talks about her first ventures in to the outdoors, her hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and the event that changed her life – a 60′ fall that nearly ended her life (and made her an amputee).  Niki is now a week in to her A.T. thru-hike and took time from a rest area in North Georgia to speak with us.  Click below for her inspirational story, or click this link to follow her on Facebook.

Subject: Superwoman
Interviewees:  Niki Rellon
Interview Date: March 27, 2015
Runtime: 46:45
Download Now: Superwoman(WMA format 32.2 Meg);
Superwoman (MP3 format 44.8 Meg)

You can follow or subscribe to this podcast if you click here (via Blubrry, Facebook, Google+, iGoogle, iTunes, RSS, Twitter, Stitcher, Yahoo, Zune). Or click this link for a complete list of N2Backpacking podcasts.

BIONIC WOMAN IS HIKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL

EVENT DATE: MAR 06, 2015

THE STORY:

 

Interview Q&A - NikiRellon (for Hilary Oliver) 5.4.15

Nowadays, income is my biggest challenge. Adidas has supported me with gear, and GoPro to document my story. But I have no income for food, fuel, incidentals…I would love to spread the word about my CrowdRise fundraiser that will help me to complete the trail:https://www.crowdrise.com/oneleggedwomenwants…/…/ekiehrellon (Copy will be edited this week FYI)

What prompted your AT hike?

After I got out of the ICU (after I broke my pelvis, spine, foot/amputated leg, ribs and sternum, etc.) ICU, I went to Germany to do my rehab and live with my parents. After a long time doing all the PT and doctors’ visits, I found myself depressed, on pain meds with little leg strength to show for it. Having hiked the PCT before, I knew that a long hike on the AT would aid in my recovery, to regain strength. My goal is to reach 90% leg strength by the end of the trail. My goals are to return to ski instruction, become an adaptive ski instructor, and compete on an adaptive snowboard team in Colorado. (I plan to be finished by the second week in October.)

 

How did you decide on the AT?

I completed the PCT in 2006 (2600 miles). The AT is an easier trail than the PCT, physically and logistically, so it is a perfect fit for my goals.  I knew it would be easier to get off the trail and find Prosthetists along the trail to make adjustments to my prosthetic.

 

Were your doctors supportive?

Nope. I didn’t believe what they told me or that all the prescribed medications would help me recover. Massage, PT, Opiates, etc. is not my idea of getting back to normal.

 

In Germany, they prescribed so many medications forthe pain (that I needed to take daily) but I found myself becoming angry and depressed. I knew that I had to make a change because it all starts in your brain, and I think negative thoughts/depression begets pain. All I would hear from the doctors and my parents was “You cannot do…You cannot hike.” The AT is my escape from the negativity and truly, the pain has subsided so drastically….I only take pain meds every once a while vs. every day Germany. I am a trained EMT and Paramedic, so I knew what would work for me. It’s important after injury to make your own mind up, research and talk to people and educate yourself to aid your own recovery.

 

Do you have a trail name?

“Bionic Woman”- it was given to me by a friend and it stuck.

 

What were the first couple of days on the trail like?

Very frustrating. It was hard to have people pass me on the trail. I can usually hike any pace…I averaged 43 miles a day on the PCT, but my first day on AT, I only hiked 7 miles.

 

But today, I can keep up with the average hiker on the trail… I can do 20 miles without my pack or 12-15 miles with my 27lb pack. (sometimes Trail Angels haul packs for hikers.)

 

How has this challenge pushed you beyond what you'd be doing in a typical rehab program?

Controlled Rehab is very good at the beginning of the recovery process. You need to take slowly as you begin to walk with a walker in a hospital.But as soon as I could walk with a cane, I knew that twenty minutes of rehab 3x a week would never get me back to 100%- back to a real life…that’s why I left for the AT. On AT there is no excuse…there are no day breaks if you’re tired, you have to keep moving.

 

What has been the biggest challenge so far?What kinds of challenges have you had specific to your prosthetic and leg? Limbs can change in size a lot from day to day — has fitting your socket be difficult?

 

At the start, I had the wrong prothestic leg.It createda lot of friction. My stump was swollen with bad hot spots, and scar tissue was becoming a real problem. I had to quit the trail or 10 days and go on crtuchesand take antibiotics to ward off infection. Thanks to Click Medical and RevoFit, I have a new socket with Vacuum system and the Boa Closure System. The Boa dial is so helpful because I am swollen in the morning, but throughout the day my circulation improves and I can just tighten the dial while I am hiking for the perfect fit.

Nowadays, income is my biggest challenge. Adidas has supported me with gear, and GoPro to document my story. But I have no income for food, fuel, incidentals…I would love to spread the word about my CrowdRise fundraiser that will help me to complete the trail: https://www.crowdrise.com/oneleggedwomenwantstohiketheappalachiantrail/fundraiser/ekiehrellon(Copy will be edited this week FYI)

 

What kind of possibilities will new technology like that open for other amputees?

 

What Click Medical is doing by providing a better fitting prosthetic with the Boa Closure System, amputees are able to participate in more activities than ever beforebecause the prosthetic fit can be changed instantly as the body changes. 

 

What response do you typically get from other hikers? What kind of support do you expect along the way?

 

People seem more motivated and more confident. I think they think, “If she can hike this, I can too.” I think an amputee, a man, hiked the AT in 2004 and was supported by a van. My goal is to do this 100% and carry my own supplies…I think I can do the whole thing.

 

Biggest Support: I have arranged for 8 food supply boxes to be sent to me along the way and Boa and Click -they got me my new leg.

 

How many miles have you covered so far? Or, how many do you average per day?400 (been on the trail 7 weeks; see average mileage above)

 

 

How do you define adventure?

Adventure is living life to the fullest.

 

A comment from my Friend Jay !
Jay : I want you to support my dear friend Niki Rellon, we have been good friends for a long time. Niki was the German Women's Welterweight Kick Boxing Champion, she Boxed professionally in Europe. she rode her Bicycle from Alaska to Mexico City by herself. She backpacked the entire Pacific Crest Trail (Mexico to Canada by herself. She was a ski Instructor Colo. and also Ski patrol. She got her own Motorcycle and rode it to Alaska from Colorado and back by herself.
She was repelling in Utah with friends last year ... made a mistake and fell 40 feet and landed on her back in rocks .... She fell so far that the impact broke her Climbing helmet in half.
I can't begin to list all her injuries, too numerous... her foot was broken so badly ... She said "Take it off" as it could never be repaired or made whole. Look at her Facebook page and see what she has been doing since she lost her foot during the last years. I can't describe the pain and tribulation she has told me about... It is her story not mine, she is one of the most inspiring friends I have ever had.
She wants to hike the Appalachian Trail this Spring.
If you need something to give you some hope and inspiration connect with my friend and help her to raise the money to keep her on the trail that she can accomplish, as the FIRST one legged women who is hiking the Appalachian trail !

Niki Rellon ~ Facing Life’s Mountains & Valleys on the Appalachian Trail


Written by Robert Sutherland on 3rd August 2015

 

 

 

Let’s pretend for a moment that this is your story:

I was a triathlete, a paramedic, kick-boxing champion, solo Pacific Trail thru-hiker, ski instructor and climber.

On Friday, November 1, 2013, I fell while rappelling in Utah.  I broke my pelvis, spine, and shattered my left foot. The damage was so severe they had to amputate my foot.

The pain and depression required medication.  Then came the need for meds and the troubles that caused.

I am young.  I am a woman.

My name is Niki Rellon.

Now what?

So.  What will the next chapter of your life look like?  Which exit or on-ramp do you take on the Road of Life:

  1. The Rocky Road of I Cannot
  2. The Dead End of I Will Not
  3. The Long Road to Recovery

 

Niki Rellon cannot be properly defined by the single word “amputee.” Victor, perhaps, but not amputee. ~~ Photo from Nike Rellon’s Facebook page

Most of us cannot imagine the kinds of struggles that are Niki’s.

We freak out when the refrigerator conks out, overflowing tubs leak into rooms on lower floors and when we can’t find our car keys.

A few among us must cope with words like “lump,” “overdue,” “accident,” “met someone else” or “cutbacks.”

Hearing a doctor say you must have an amputation?  That’s got to be big-time difficult.

Niki Rellon — against considerable advice — decided to face her suddenly new life on the Appalachian Trail.  With determination, hiking poles and one new leg.

Bionic Woman

Taking “Bionic Woman” as her Trail name, she headed north from Georgia’s Springer Mountain and set her sights on Maine’s Katahdin mountains, home of Baxter Peak, the end of the Trail.

Bionic Woman “only” hiked seven miles her first day on the Trail.  As if that’s something to be ashamed of because she “should have” done more while carrying a pack on her back with all her gear.  Can you imagine?

Years ago I tried to talk my older brother, Jim, into hiking the AT.  That’s been a dream of his for most of his life.  I think his reference to the Trail was my initiation into its existence.  Jim is pushing 70, in great shape and really could make the trek.

Jim (I call him “Jimmy” of course) said he has bad knees and a pain here and/or there.

I smugly replied with advice that I would never accept for myself:

Pffft!  You could make it!  If you got into trouble, the blind hikers and the folks on crutches would help you, until the little girls and old men arrived to care for you.

Laugh, but that’s true.

Great pain and great tragedies can birth great triumphs.

I marvel at the life and achievements of Niki Rellon — when she had two good legs and now that she is the Bionic Woman.

If I understand correctly, as of the end of July, 2015, Niki has hiked more than 1,000 miles.  She made it to Harpers Ferry, WV, then flip-flopped to Maine.

That’s where hikers climb an almost-mile-high-mountain in order to begin to hike the Appalachian Trail southward to Georgia.

Here’s the story of her descent from Katahdin posted at http://clickmedical.co/news/niki-rellon/:

There is good reason that the north end of trail closes early. On Niki’s second day heading south, she learned firsthand how quickly the weather can change. As she was descending off Mt. Baxter, she was caught in a wet and windy storm with gusts over 80 miles per hour. She was literally being blown off the mountain. She had no choice, but to hunker down in her sleeping bag and call for help. A ranger came to her aid and the pair was able to escape to lower elevation. Unfortunately, the long wait in wet sub-zero temperatures resulted in frostbite to Niki’s toes and fingers. She was forced to take yet another recovery break of several days.

She was literally being blown off the mountain.

Now (early August), Niki is back on the trail and making progress. Her sights are still set on becoming the first female amputee to finish the AT thru-hike. However she has already accomplished her main objective – to regain her strength and become med-free. Niki expects to finish in late October or early November.

In my estimation, Niki doesn’t need to walk another foot to be my hero.  She’s done plenty.

Suzannah the Muse

When I told Suzannah (my muse) about Niki, she replied “Now, that’s a story! Wow!”

And all Appalachian Trail hikers said, “Amen!”

Niki and You

What are you sure that you cannot do in life?  What uniquely insurmountable troubles and woes whup your butt?  What is too hard for you?

Does the fact that Niki is hiking the AT on one leg mean that your problems are insignificant?  No.

Does it mean all your issues are easily overcome?  No.

Niki Rellon hiking the Appalachian Trail after having one leg amputated does mean that we do not have to give up on life, crawl into a hole and have a lifelong pity party.

Cheer up!  Life could be worse … and if you life long enough it will get worse!  It’s all a matter of how you will deal with your life, wherever it leads.

I admire the way Niki Rellon tackles the mountains and valleys in her life.  May God bless her.

You go, girl!  Everything’s going to be all right.