It took our friend and frequent contributor Angie Heuser slightly more than a year post-amputation to get back out on the hiking trail. As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, Angie has hardly been idle—she learned how to surf less than a year after her surgery, ran a 10K race right around the time of her first ampuversary, serves as a fundraising ambassador for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and has learned to find balance amid the disruptions and intensity of 2020. Hiking brings its own set of challenges for amputees, but Angie’s never one to back down.

She’ll be hitting the trail this Sunday to help Team Amplitude as we raise funds for amputees in need (and we really need your support!). You can keep up with Angie at her blog, Stepping Out in Faith, and on Instagram @angie_heuser.

Amputee hiking on the Crystal Point Loop in Arizona.
Crystal Point Loop, near Phoenix AZ.
Photo courtesy Angie Heuser.

I’m sitting here, listening to the birds chirping, feeling the slight breeze blow across my face, marveling at how beautiful the Northern Arizona forest is during the summer. I am also exhausted and sore. But I couldn’t be happier.

I woke up this morning with grit and determination to set and hit another goal, which is pretty typical of me. Today’s goal was the kind that, once I started, there would be no turning back and no help from anyone around me. Today’s goal was to hike my longest distance yet since becoming an amputee 14 months ago—and to do it alone.

Crystal Point Loop in Munds Park, Arizona, is a beautiful hike for anyone, and a great challenge for an above-knee amputee like me. You have to be careful, as it’s a very rocky trail with a ton of boulders ready to trip you up at any given moment. But that’s the challenge, right? My goal is always to push myself further than the last goal (I am highly competitive!). A couple of weeks ago I had done Crystal Point Loop with my husband, which was my longest hike as an amputee at that point. I figured the next step was to go out and do the loop again, relying on just myself this time.

I’ve always hiked with my husband, and it’s a great opportunity for us to connect. Hiking with other people is generally a good for a new amputee, because they can help push you when you need encouragement and be there for you in case of an emergency. But there’s nothing greater than the excitement, the rush, I feel from setting a large goal and pushing through to the end, especially when I have to fight the pains that come with the territory.

In this case, the pains started when I put on my leg on the morning of the hike, due to the constant beating I take on my residual limb. I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I can set goals all I like, but until I put on my prosthesis and begin to walk around, I have no idea how difficult my goal will be to achieve. Maybe some of you understand that. Maybe you get how it can feel great to get out and be active on one day, while on another day you struggle just to walk around the house or up and down the grocery aisles. This is the life of an amputee.

Amputee hiking at the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Grand Canyon, near Flagstaff AZ.
Photo courtesy Angie Heuser.

There was a little part of me that said, “Maybe you should wait until tomorrow.” But as I’ve told you, I am highly competitive, so I squashed that thought instantly. It truly is about the mindset you take out with you.

As amputees we have to work harder for each step, so we must always go well prepared for any hike, whether solo or with friends. When I hike, I always take one or two hiking sticks and carry a small backpack that has water, my bag for putting my Skin Fit socket on (in case I ever need to adjust the fitting), a towel, my lotion, and a wrench for the knee (again, just in case). My two biggest problems when I walk, hike, or run long distances are chaffing and bruising up the end of my limb. I use Aquaphor for the chaffing, but there’s not much I can do when I start to bruise. That’s where my goal setting, competitive nature, and mental toughness come into play.

To make a solo three-mile hiking story short: I did it! I completed the whole thing! Was it easy? No way. But I had no intentions of ever giving up. (Plus, once you get to the highest point on the trail, you’re kind of stuck with finishing.) So how does an amputee get through a solo hike in one piece?  For me, it’s as easy as setting a true goal, telling someone else (to ensure accountability), then going prepared with the right equipment and mindset. You don’t have to be speedy, or agile, or climbing up and over things to be hiking. You just need to remember to put one foot in front of the other, step by step. Next thing you know, you’ve done it. If you get to a harder part of a trail, slow down and take it one step at a time. Don’t get caught up in looking ahead, wishing you were done, or (worst of all) telling yourself how far it is until you’re finished. Just do what you can, where you’re at, on your journey—which is to take the next step.

Hiking alone was liberating. After that first solo hike at Crystal Point I completed another one, and it was by far my hardest hike yet since becoming an amputee. The temperature was 99°, and my route was a constant incline along a narrow path at the edge of rocky cliffs. This one was crazy, to be honest. But my prosthesis fit great that day, and my biggest challenges were trying not to overheat and not to fall off the cliff. It was another chance to focus on putting one foot in front of the other and not worrying about anything else. Going step by step, slow and steady, got me to the top and then back down. I was beat, but I knew I had grown stronger in those three hours, both mentally and physically. It felt like I’d really accomplished something.

Everything in life is about just taking the first step, going at challenges with a positive attitude, and following through. You can do it! Get out there. Take one step at a time, and crush your goals!

More articles by Angie Heuser:
Learning to Surf as an Amputee
My First 10K Post-Amputation
Restoring a Sense of Balance