Long hikes can be a grueling process for even the most physically fit. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is no joke, near 2,200 miles long. Stacey Kozel was committed to completing it – without the full use of her legs. Now she is taking her story cross-country to the Pacific Crest Trail.
Since her teenage years, Stacey Kozel was always one of the most active people in her friend group. She hoped to play softball in college, but her body would not let her. She was diagnosed with lupus at age 19, an auto-immune disease that attacks healthy body tissue and has destroyed her spinal cord. In March 2014, she got into a car accident, triggering another flare-up and immobilizing her in a hospital bed. Kozel would not stand for nine months and could not walk for a year. Doctors feared that she would never walk again.
To their surprise, not only would Kozel walk again, but she would hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Kozel refers to herself as functionally paraplegic, regaining some use of her arms, but is still diagnosed as a quadriplegic. She used special leg braces to help her walk and became the first person with her condition to hike the entire trail.
The Appalachian Trail starts in Georgia and stretches across 14 states, culminating at Mount Katahdin in Maine. In addition to the 2,189.1 miles of trail, the Appalachian Trail gains 515,000 feet of elevation throughout. That is the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest 16 times.
With the Appalachian Trail behind her, Kozel has a new challenge ahead – the Pacific Crest Trail. She will have to hike from the US-Mexico border all the way up to the Canadian border over 2,650 miles.
Kozel told KNSD, “I don’t want to live life with regrets, you know? I want to be able to know that I lived every day. Now all I have to do is walk, walk north.”