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Patient with prosthetic leg hikes the Appalachian Trail

Ricky hikes 2,189 miles in four months

On March 27, 2017, 19-year-old Ricky Vandegrift of Bethel, Ohio, set out on a self-guided journey to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. His plans were to hike the full 2,189-mile-long trail, passing through 14 different states. Ricky was determined to complete his journey over a three-to-four-month time period, averaging 23 miles per day.

Ricky completed that journey on Tuesday, July 25, 2017, after walking 2,189 miles, three days shy of four months.

Below are some fun facts about Ricky and his journey across America:

  • He  was ~1260th hiker to start Northbound in 2017
  • He was the 269th hiker to reach Harpers Ferry (halfway point)
  • He was the 169th hiker to finish

Ricky was born without a left fibula, the long lean bone in the leg. When he was 18 months old, Janet Walker, M.D., pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Shriners Hospitals for Children Medical Center — Lexington, advised Ricky’s parents that his leg needed to be amputated. Ricky learned to walk using a prosthetic leg and Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services (POPS) – Midwest, LLC, of the Lexington Shriners Medical Center have constructed replacement legs as Ricky has grown and his athletic ability has increased.

Ricky’s prosthetic leg has never limited his athletic ability. Ricky loves to spend his free time outdoors hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. He previously competed in two World Rowing Championships.

When Ricky told his family that he would be hiking the Appalachian Trail alone his family encouraged him to setup a Facebook account in order to keep them updated on his whereabouts. Good thing he did! Ricky encountered two injuries to his prosthetic leg during his adventure. Both times he called upon Chris Burke, prosthetist in the POPS department at the Lexington Shriners Medical Center.

While hiking in a foot of snow in the Smokey Mountains around April 15, Ricky had a mishap that rendered him immobile. Ricky's grandfather sent the following update through an email exchange with the Shriners Medical Center's public relations department, "When he realized the seriousness of his dilemma, he shouted "Is anyone out there?" Someone replied "We're here, what do you need?" Ricky answered that he had broken his foot, to which they replied, "Don't worry, we'll call 911 and get a helicopter in to fly you to a hospital.” Ricky answered “I don’t need a hospital. I need to get to a hardware store.” Ricky had broken the four titanium bolts in his prosthesis that attached his foot to the shank. Bolts from the hardware store got him back on the Trail and a few days later Burke overnighted Ricky spare parts. When I asked him how he might reduce the strain on those bolts, Ricky said that he might jog less in the future!" Ricky's dad and grandfather feared that he had little chance of finishing the hike.

The next injury occurred with just over 100 miles to go (out of the 2,189 miles!). During the weekend of July 21, another part of Ricky's foot broke. Burke was contacted immediately and was able to send a new foot with a titanium fixture overnight to Ricky. "Ricky is one of the most impressive kids that I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking care of in this business.  It really makes the mission of Shriners Hospitals for Children more real and rewarding!" said Burke.

Ricky's next journey is on to receiving a college degree. Beginning this August, Ricky will attend Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, and major in natural resources, as he plans for a career working with the great outdoors. “I believe my experience hiking the Appalachian Trial will provide immense life lessons that will shape my future as I set out on this new adventure of college, that will lead into my career,” said Ricky.


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