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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.
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 50% of the trail 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 23 miles a day on the PCT, but my first day on AT, I only hiked 7 miles,” she recalled.
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, Bulow 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.
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, rented a car and drove north.
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 reclaim her adventurous lifestyle. Niki expects to finish in late October or early November.
Niki’s RevoFit socket was paid for by a grant, which provides amputee athletes with a Boa Powered RevoFit prosthetic sockets free of charge. Boa and Click Medical partner with Bulow Orthotic Prosthetic Solutions, which donates the time and expertise for fittings. Boa and Click Medical donate the materials and build the socket according to the fit specs and mold provided by the prosthetist.
“The Revofit socket with the Boa dial is so helpful because I’m swollen in the morning, but throughout the day my circulation improves and I can just tighten the dial while I’m hiking for the perfect fit,” Niki explained.
As the closure on a prosthetic socket, Boa provides superior fit and comfort and the ability to easily adjust the socket to compensate for natural daily swelling without having to remove the prosthetic. This is huge for amputees who until now have had to remove their clothing to add or remove socks throughout the day. It allows them to live a more normal life and it allows athletes to have more control and superior performance in whatever sport they are pursuing.
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.
FIT & COMFORT ON DEMAND
WITH THE BOA® CLOSURE SYSTEM
RevoFit™ is a new generation technology solution that enables prosthetists to fabricate micro-adjustable prosthetic sockets. Once integrated, the fabricated socket fit can be instantly customized, by micro-adjustments of the Boa® reel by creating compression, suspension & closure around the limb.
Drastically shorten socket application time by releasing and expanding the socket.