Stacey Kozel’s smile will brighten your day, but her story could inspire a change in your life.
“I could sit at home in my wheelchair or I could get out here and figure out how to, ya know, keep living,” she said.
The inflammatory disease lupus has plagued her since adolescence. A flare up in 2014, rendered her whole body paralyzed in a hospital bed. Her legs never regained motion.
Intense physical therapy helped her discover a workaround. An exoskeleton holds her legs upright as she propels forward with her upper body.
“I’ve kind of learned how to figure out what muscles are working and kind of lean into something. You kind of adjust and figure it out, I guess,” she told us about walking without moving her legs.
Not knowing when lupus would strike again, the Medina native made big plans. In 2016, she hiked the 2,181 mile Appalachian Trail. Earlier this month she completed the Pacific Crest Trail. That was a five-month-long trek, 2,650 miles from the Mexican border to Canada. She does it all solo.
Of course, there are struggles. Sometimes she slips and falls. But the 42-year-old says this is her purpose, encouraging others to do the impossible -- whatever that may be in their lives.
“I feel like life is kind of like hiking. The harder the climb, the better the view once you reach the top,” Kozel told us.
Stacey returned home to Medina from the west coast on September 10, but she’s already planning her next hike. She wants to tackle the 1,444 mile Buckeye Trail through Ohio.