'Bionic Woman' Visits Berkshire Amid Appalachian Trail Hike
Posted 10/26/2015 03:01PM

Niki Rellon is 600 miles from becoming the first female leg amputee to hike the entire 2,200 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail.

On Monday morning, Rellon took respite from her adventure to share her powerful story with Berkshire students, faculty and staff gathered for the All-School meeting in Allen Theater.

“On the trail, there’s no excuse,” Rellon told the crowd.

Last spring, the 40-year-old set out to conquer the scenic east coast trail that stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. 

The adventure began just 18-months after Rellon broke her sternum, spine and pelvis and lost the lower half of her left leg to amputation following a rock climbing accident in Utah.  

“New doors open up,” Rellon said while sharing photographs of her injuries. “I’ve done all kinds of things, so now I have a new challenge. I see it in a positive way.”

Prior to her injury, Rellon, a German-born Colorado resident, hiked the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail stretching from Mexico to Canada, competed as a world-champion kick-boxer and is currently training for a spot on the 2018 U.S. Paralympic team as a snowboarder.

Two members of the Berkshire community who share personal, yet similar stories joined Rellon on stage. 

Insha Afsar ’18, a second year Berkshire student, lost her left leg following an earthquake in her native Pakistan when she was just five years old. Today, Afsar is a member of the championship-winning Berkshire downhill ski team and hopes to compete in the Paralympics.

Sydney Satchell, a coach and instructor in the Kenefick Center for Learning, lost part of her left leg in an automobile accident last winter. Like Rellon, Satchell said resilience has been one of the keys to overcoming her injury.

“I was a champion. I was going to overcome,” said Satchell. “It’s mental toughness and a great attitude.”

Rellon, meanwhile, plans to pick up the trail again where she left off, in Kent, Connecticut. Traveling between 10-12 miles each day—a pace Rellon jokes earned her the nickname "trail snail'— she hopes to arrive at the end of her trip in Glasgow, Virginia, on or before her birthday on December 4.

When asked by a Berkshire faculty member what has been the toughest part of the hike so far, Rellon quickly responded, “Katadhin.”
“It took my hiking stick, my Swiss Army knife and my water bottle,” she said laughing.

Special thanks to Shelton Reichardt '68 of Dillon, Colorado for sharing Rellon's story with us.