One of our goals at Hike the World is to shine a light on the faces behind the hikes. We want to share real stories from real people. People who have had their own struggles, mentally and physically, and used the outdoors as a way to heal. It's possible to overcome problems, stress and grief by getting outside and hiking with a supportive community.
We are excited and honored to introduce one of our very first Hike the World ambassadors, Angelina Boulicault. We found her and her incredible website, Adaptive Amputees, through social media. Her mission is so closely aligned with ours that we thought she would be a perfect ambassador for Hike the World. We were inspired by her story and are thankful to her for sharing it with us so readily and passionately. We guarantee you will be as riveted as we were.
Hiking is a very important part of my life. Growing up as an amputee I was often told what my limits were. I was told, "Be careful, don't overdo it, sit this one out." Teachers, doctors and almost any other two-legged human set my limits. I was warned about what my future might hold. As a kid, I remember thinking, "They'll see."
Amputees expend significantly higher levels of energy than non-amputees, and as a below-the-knee amputee, I expend up to 45 percent more energy than a non-amputee. This does not mean I cannot do things, it just means it will be a lot more difficult and taxing.
High-impact sports often leave me exhausted and riddled with sores. I played a lot of sports growing up but didn't enjoy the competitiveness. I'm more of an everyone-enjoy-the-moment kind of gal. I wanted both teams to win.
I got into hiking after I woke up from a coma. I had fallen sick with pneumonia and an infection in my heart. I’d lost 20 pounds after a month in ICU. Much of my recovery focused on getting stronger and increasing my activity. A few weeks went by, and I began to go outside and walk. My walks grew longer, and I got stronger.
The only time I felt strong was on my walks. I was making good progress, but I soon grew bored with the same old flat streets. So I started going on short trails, which added some elevation gain and were more interesting. At first, the hikes felt difficult and I had to stop to catch my breath a lot; my lungs and heart were still recovering from the stress of infection. I was worried about being able to finish even a few miles on the trail. Soon, I could walk up and down hills, breathing the fresh air into my re-inflated lungs. I could get my heart beating faster and harder; it felt stronger. I felt stronger.
There are plenty of difficulties while hiking, but it is a sport you can do at your own pace. When hiking on an incline the lack of a real ankle can be quite frustrating. Going uphill my leg pushes me away from the incline, and going downhill it jolts me forward. When there are rocks beneath me I often lose my footing because I cannot feel the instability beneath my leg.
It does have its benefits though! If the gap is too large to leap I can dunk my fake foot right into the water and not worry about wet socks or hypothermia. Another huge benefit of hiking as an amputee is free access to 2,000 federal recreation sites across the nation! The Access Pass is a free, lifetime pass available to people that have a permanent disability. That gets me (and a car of four people) into National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and many National Forest lands.
I don’t think you have to be the fastest track star or the strongest Crossfit gal. I have paraglided, I have mountain-biked, I have hiked through a rainforest, I have competed in a triathlon, I have swum in the ocean, I have been all over the U.S. on various hikes! Life is about taking risks and going after what you want. So don’t be afraid to get out there and see the world.
Angelina has built an amazing website for amputees. We encourage you to check it out as it provides invaluable advice, information and resources. If you have any questions or want to talk to her about hiking as an amputee or which prosthetics to use, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is encouraging and friendly and we couldn't be happier to have her as a part of the Hike the World family. We will be sharing more of her story down the line as she has many more adventures planned!
All photos were taken by the very talented Nick Martinson. You can check out his work here.