AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A local woman with braces on her legs is trying to hike the 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail that runs from Georgia to Maine.
On Tuesday evening, Stacey Kozel was at Austintown’s Western Reserve Orthotics and Prosthetics getting her computerized braces worked on and refitted.
“She’s pushing them to the edge and beyond,” said Joey Pollak, a prosthetist and orthoptist.
Kozel is 41 years old and originally from Medina though she now lives in Madison.
“I think just being trapped in my wheelchair, and for over two years looking out the window and wanting to be outdoors, made me think more about getting outside. That was just one of my goals,” Kozel said.
FirstNews was there on December 21 when Kozel took her first steps with her new C-braces by Ottobock.
Paralyzed by Lupus and a car accident, she had been wearing metal braces which made her walk stiff-legged. She convinced her insurance company to spend the $91,000 to buy the C-braces with the computer packs that help her legs move. Three months later, on March 24, she started on the Appalachian trail.
“It’s been a challenge. I’ve actually had to get on my butt and scoot in some spots where other people might just use their legs,” Kozel said.
Stacey made it into North Carolina and is doing about 10 miles a day. The braces force her to stop more often than she would like.
“I do have to charge these so I do have to come off the trail to plug them in. I do try to stay on the trail in my tent as much as possible,” Kozel said.
With her braces rebuilt on Tuesday, Kozel did a few laps around the room. Everything worked. The next day, she headed back to where she left off on the Appalachian Trail. She knows there are tough sections ahead and realizes she may need help. She has something to prove.
“I want to show insurance companies it’s worth it. I want to show them the benefits of approving these and, even for them, I think it’ll be less costly in the end,” Kozel said.