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Paralyzed hiker takes on 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail

Paralyzed Appalachian hiker
Paralyzed Appalachian hiker 02:30

THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL -- The Appalachian Trail stretches 2,200 miles through 14 states from Georgia to Maine.

Stacey Kozel began hiking the trail in March. She's more than halfway through, and that is no small achievement.

You can't tell just by looking at her -- which is the point -- but Kozel is paralyzed.

"I waited till I was paralyzed to actually hike the trail," she joked to CBS News' Jim Axelrod.

Stacey Kozel CBS News

That's right. The 41-year-old is hiking 2,200 miles, and she is paralyzed. Lupus, an autoimmune disease, attacked her spinal cord three years ago and left her unable to move her legs.

Kozel says she cannot feel anything in her legs while she is walking.

Her legs don't work, but her hips do. She swings them out and back, which is when her cutting edge electronic braces take over.

Stacy Kozel's leg braces. CBS News

"There are sensors in the bottom of my foot. The sensors go up a spring in the back and tells this microprocessor that I need full tension at my knees so they don't collapse," Kozel explained.

Basically, she moves her hip, which activates the computer. The computer then gives her tension and support in her knee.

The braces aren't cheap -- $75,000 each. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is a walk in the park compared to the fight she had with her insurance. Kozel said she was denied 12 times by her insurance company for the equipment.

"Did you ever come close to throwing in the towel with the insurance company and saying, 'Fine, you win,'" Axelrod wondered.

"No, I'll never give in for that," Kozel said. "I thought if I could do this, the next person might not have as much trouble getting them approved."

The next person. Through all her months of rehab and learning how to walk in the braces, Kozel was motivated by inspiring others in the process.

"Climbing up the mountain, it's tough. But once you get to the top, there's always these great views that make it all worth it," she said.

CBS News

"I think the possibilities are endless, actually. That's what I always say."

Stacey Kozel can certainly talk the talk, but far more impressive is watching her walk the walk.

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