- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2003

WASHBURN, Tenn. - Scott Rogers, whose daily journey begins with a single step on a bionic leg, is preparing for a hike up the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail.

“I have been told I can’t do it, that I won’t make it. But how do you know?” he says.

Mr. Rogers, 34, hikes with the help of the “C-Leg” — a prosthetic powered by a battery, driven by hydraulics and controlled by microprocessors that monitor his movement 50 times a second to create a natural, stable gait.

The affable Georgia native, whose Web and e-mail addresses say “onelegwonder,” finished a grueling seven-day, 65-mile practice hike on the Laurel Highlands Trail in Pennsylvania.

He plans to start a seven-month trip in April along the Appalachian Trail, walking from Georgia to Maine. “If I fail at it,” he says, “at least I tried.”

Mr. Rogers lost his left leg below the knee in 1998 when he accidentally shot himself while hunting a snake. He said the accident made him stronger.

“What can hurt worse than being shot by a shotgun and surviving?” he asks.

With only one leg, he learned to water-ski, bought an ultralight aircraft and returned to work as a paramedic. Wearing a below-the-knee prosthesis was “no more of a chore than putting on a shoe.”

But when chronic pain worsened two years ago, Mr. Rogers had to quit his job. He sold his house and moved his family from Milledgeville, Ga., to Washburn, about 50 miles north of Knoxville, just to be closer to the mountains.

The rest of his leg was amputated in March 2002, and he faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life on crutches and in a wheelchair. But four months later, Medicare helped pay for a $48,000 “C-Leg,” an artificial knee, shin and foot made by the German company Otto Bock Orthopedic and available in the United States since 1999.

“Science will never be able to replace what God gave me, but they came close with this,” Mr. Rogers said.

Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics in Kingsport fitted the artificial leg on Mr. Rogers, but even the specialists there are amazed by his plans for the Appalachian Trail.

“You’ve got to have somebody who’s got the nerve to do all this,” says prosthetist Paul Meyer. “I am not sure I would walk 65 miles on a trail, and I have both of my God-given legs. He’s a real gutsy guy.”

On the practice hike in Pennsylvania, Mr. Rogers drained all the power from the battery on his bionic leg after the first day, and found he had left his backup battery at home on the kitchen counter. Otto Bock had specially designed a soft panel, solar-powered battery charger, but Mr. Rogers was hiking in a steady downpour.

Without power, the C-Leg goes into fail-safe mode — the leg stiffens, although the knee continues to flex. Mr. Rogers walked for three more days before a charger that Mr. Meyer shipped from Kansas City reached a ranger station along the trail.

“I was hoping he would succeed because I didn’t want to live with him if he didn’t,” his wife, Leisa, says with a laugh. “I figured if he didn’t do it he was going to be miserable. … He did real good.”

She paralleled his route in the family van and left love notes along the trail to encourage him. The oldest of their six children, Tyler, 12, and Hannah, 11, walked with him part of the way.

Around 2,400 backpackers each year set out on the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. Fewer than one in five completes the journey.

“It is tough for anybody,” says Brian King, spokesman for the Appalachian Trail Conference in Blacksburg, Va. “There are hard places, especially coming down hills, even if you have two original legs.”

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