'Bionic man' starts walking Appalachian Trail

Scott Rogers of Washburn, Tenn., prepares for a planned hike Monday at Panther Creek State Park in Morristown, Tenn. Wade Payne / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A hiker with a battery-powered, bionic leg has set out to become the first amputee to walk the entire Appalachian Trail, a 2,168-mile trek from Georgia to Maine.

“I am on my way,” Scott Rogers said by telephone Monday from Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville, Ga.

The morning was cold but the sun was shining and Rogers said while he was eager “to hike as far as I can in one day,” but added that his immediate goal was “just to get through Day One.”

“I have met tons of skeptics, people I don’t know,” he said last week. “But people who know me know that if there is any way possible for me to do it, I am going to do it.”

The 35-year-old former paramedic from Washburn, Tenn., first talked last fall about making the seven-month trek with the aid of a high-tech limb called a “C-Leg.”

The silver and blue prosthetic leg, knee and foot assembly is powered by a battery, driven by hydraulics and controlled by microprocessors that monitor his movement 50 times a second to create a natural, stable gate.

Otto Bock Orthopedic, the leg’s German manufacturer, and Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, which fitted the leg, are supporting the hike with a solar-powered battery recharger and service along the way.

Rogers’ wife, Leisa, will be following from campsite to campsite in a 27-foot motor home with their six children.

Shot while hunting a snake
Rogers lost his left leg below the knee in 1998 when he shot himself while hunting a snake. He learned to water ski and fly an ultralight airplane despite the disability, but chronic pain forced him to quit his job as a paramedic.

Two years ago, the leg had to be re-amputated above the knee and he faced the prospect of having to use a wheelchair before Hanger Prosthetics steered him to the C-Leg.

Rogers took on the Appalachian Trail trek as a personal challenge, but with publicity has come a broader impact. People have written him with encouragement, advice and offers of help along the trail.

He became a mentor to Lane Milliken, an 8-year-old Clarksville, Tenn., boy who lost the use of a leg in a lawnmower accident five years ago and will soon have it amputated in favor of an artificial limb similar to Rogers’.

“If I fell before, I’d just be falling in front of my wife and kids. Now if I am going to fall, it will be in front of everybody,” Rogers said. “But that is OK, if I fall I get up.”

Hiking eight to 10 miles a day, Rogers hopes by July to reach Harpers Ferry, W.Va., about halfway up the trail. He will get off there and drive to the trail’s end at Mt. Katahdin in Maine. There, he will get back on the trail and head south to the finish.

This “flip-flop” approach, intended to avoid wintry weather toward the end of the hike, is perfectly acceptable to the Appalachian Trail community. Around 2,400 hikers start the Appalachian Trail each year, but fewer than one in five finish.

The key will be to “set several small goals every day and find something to celebrate, something to be thankful for,” Rogers said.

“And if I am not still hiking in November,” he said with a laugh, “I will be OK.”