Making History, Despite the Naysayers

By Sharon Sullivan

Niki Rellon lost her leg after a 2013 canyoneering accident in Utah where she fell 45 feet, shattering her pelvis, collapsing her lung and demolishing her left foot. A year later – despite family members and doctors telling her she couldn’t – Rellon began training to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Of the roughly 2,000 people who attempt the AT each year, only 10 percent make it. In 2015, Rellon became the first female with a prosthetic leg to hike the entire 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail by herself. She wrote a book about her experience titled Push On: My Walk to Recovery on the Appalachian Trail.

At first, Rellon resisted the idea of amputation, but after four months of hospitalization, including six weeks in intensive care, she looked at the x-rays and realized she would never walk again without the surgery – so she consented. She recognized amputation was the best option if she wanted to continue her active lifestyle.

By March 2015, Rellon was ready to begin her hike on Springer Mountain in Georgia, the Appalachian Trail’s southern end. A week into her trek, however, she began experiencing terrible blisters caused by friction from her prosthetic device and was forced to take a break from the trail.

Rellon visited Bulow Orthotic Prosthetic Solutions in Columbia, South Carolina, where she was fitted with a temporary prosthetic socket, while Click Medical, a Steamboat Springs, Colorado, company manufactured a custom prosthetic outfitted with its trademark RevoFit adjustable socket. A simple twist of a dial allows amputees to adjust their prosthetic limbs themselves, as one’s body changes in volume throughout the day. The adjustable socket creates compression, suspension, and closure around the limb.

Click Medical shipped the new RevoFit socket to Rellon and she was refit with the new device at another Bulow office along the trail. Click Medical and the Denver-based Boa Technology, donated the materials and built the socket according to the fit specs and mold provided by Rellon’s prosthetist. “With my new system I could continue walking again,” Rellon says. “Click Medical was a huge support for me.”

Hiking the Appalachian Trail was a form of rehabilitation for Rellon and a way to reclaim what had always been an adventuresome and active life. She completed the trek in nine-and-a-half months. Before her injury she rode her bike from Alaska to Mexico and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, solo. She’s a certified paramedic and worked in Colorado as a ski instructor and as a ski patroller.

In June, 2018, Rellon, 44, embarked on another amazing adventure. She rode her bike from San Francisco, along the Pacific Coast to Los Angeles, continuing along Route 66 to Oklahoma City, then heading south to the Gulf Coast and the Florida Keys. She ended up in Miami on Halloween. She spoke to groups along the way about her published memoir of hiking the AT.

“In my book I tell people to do what you want to do in life – don’t listen to the naysayers,” Rellon says. “I wanted to inspire people. If I’d listened (to those who were skeptical that she could do it) I’d probably be addicted to opioids, be really heavy, and in a wheelchair.” Rellon sent a copy of her book to Click Medical to show appreciation for what they did for her.

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