The Appalachian Trail’s “Bionic Woman”: An Interview With Niki Rellon
Niki Rellon is a spitfire – quietly efficient, diligently determined, and impressive in all of her achievements. Her previous adrenaline-filled expeditions include skeleton races, competitive skiing, kick-boxing and even skydiving. She is no stranger to adversity. So when she took a 45 foot fall during a canyoneering expedition in 2013 and lost her leg, naturally, she would rise to the challenge of becoming whole again.
A little over a year after she agreed to the amputation, she began her journey on the Appalachian Trail, where she would become the first woman with a prosthetic leg to thru-hike. The following account details some of the peaks and valleys of Niki’s latest adventure on the Appalachian Trail.
Why do you think you felt the need to hike the AT?
I hiked the PCT in 2006 and learned it was about the journey. Not the destination. The whole purpose of hiking the AT was recovery. Doctors always want to give you magic pills. But you shouldn’t take any pills. Medication will not make your life better. It makes your life miserable because you’ll get all the side effects. Recovery requires good food and good nutrition and the patient has to be happy. You push yourself further away from recovery if your mind is sick.
Did you experience discouragement from people around you?
I didn’t tell anyone. I knew what I wanted to do and I didn’t need people’s opinions anymore. I don’t want to rob myself of my positive attitude. If they don’t ask questions, I don’t tell them. I don’t have to prove anything and the most important lesson is to like yourself. How can anyone else like you if you don’t like yourself?
What got you through the tough sections?
Rocky Balboa, starring Sylvester Stallone. As a kick-boxer I faced all kinds of crazy obstacles. Over many many years you have to develop more resistance and get more tough. I trained for years to become better and better and better. I was in tears several million times on the trail. It had been just over a year since I’d gotten out of the hospital so the skin was not toughened up. The cuff of my prosthetic leg had to be replaced over and over and over again.
There’s no easy way around it. It’s 100% sure. I suffered quite a lot. The beginning was very tearful but the reason I was able to stick it through is because I was a professional athlete and I know how to push myself.
It takes over a year before your leg is in perfect shape for the cast. That was a big issue. The scar tissue was opened. My limb was swollen up like a baseball. I had to get off trail three times due to infections. In all, I spent over two months off the trail. I had to learn how to be patient. It takes time to toughen that thing. Now the skin is way more toughened up. I’m not a quitter. I stick through. Whatever it takes is whatever it takes. I’m always very committed to whatever I start doing.
What were you thinking when you got to the bridge?
Before I got to the bridge, I was actually really excited to be finishing. Every part of me was hurting. It rained over the last two nights. So I was waking up in the rain. There were 5 guys staying inside of the shelter the night before. It was crowded because of the Holiday. It was really starting to get painful again.
I was tired and happy. “Finally!”: that was actually my feeling the whole time. I didn’t expect to be on trail that long. I thought it might take 7 or 8 months. I wasn’t planning on having that many setbacks. I got off the trail when it was 75 degrees out. The next day (after I finished) there was a rainstorm. I was lucky I didn’t have to hike through that. It was quite a relief.
How are you feeling now?
I haven’t really thought about it. I was really happy I finally got to my destination. It took a really long time. I was ready to be done. I really enjoyed it but I already had new ideas in my mind. I know exactly what I want to do next. I want to be part of snowboard team in Colorado. I cannot participate in skeleton races. The competition is already done but I will be riding my motorbike from it’s storage place in Miami back to Colorado. I’m trying to be responsible. I need to get my life back. Figure out how to make a living again. Somehow I’ll figure it out while riding my motorbike.
I’m not 100% perfect. I have nerve pain. Hiking and walking is the most natural thing you can do. I’m way better but not perfect.
What kind of adventures do you foresee in your future?
I’m very determined. I know exactly what I want to do. Right now, I’m working on my book: “Niki Rellon: A Walk to Recovery on the Appalachian Trail”. Eventually I’d like to become a motivational speaker and tour the country, telling my story.
For more information and updates on Niki’s future expeditions, keep an eye on her blog and follow her facebook page. The first chapter of her book will be available for free on Amazon in the next month.
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Thank you for the encouraging article..I have three knee replacements yes on my third,and want to hike the AT its the only thing on my mind.
Hello. Remember passing you by the wooden dam. It was uphill to the next shelter and tough climbing. We made it right before sunset to the shelter and wondered where you were. Sure enough you made it. One tough hiker. Putt-Putt and Tumbles.