Angelina Boulicault is an exceptional woman with limitless spirit and a focussed determination to let nothing stand in the way of her goals; pretty inspirational when you consider that she has lived with a prosthetic leg since the age of 4.
Angelina was born in Mineralnyvodi, Russia with one difference from the many other children born on that day – she had Club Foot and Tibia-Hemimelia, meaning that her foot was turned inwards and her tibia was not growing. Tragically for Angelina her parents were told that she would never make any contribution to society and were encouraged to give her up. From birth to the age of 4½ years, Angelina grew up in an orphanage until she was adopted and taken to America, where her lower right limb was amputated and she began her second chance at life.
Angelina’s adoptive parents were determined that she should never associate disability with immobility and encouraged her to pursue all sorts of athletic endeavours including ice skating, ballet classes, soccer and much more! This encouraged Angelina from an early age to aspire to do whatever she could with what she had, and this attitude has translated into her now passion for hiking and challenging herself in the outdoors.
Now a resident in Washington with her partner Nick Martinson, Angelina has gathered an element of notoriety for her adventures not only to the nearby countryside but across the United States.
Angelina first discovered her passion for hiking when she lived in Chicago, or, as she likes to describe it – the concrete jungle. In a desperate bid to escape the greyness and constrictions of city life, Angelina and Nick would travel 4/5 hours every weekend to explore the countryside, seek out outstanding sights, soak up nature and design adventures.
“I was still able to do things and I was no different to anyone else, I was just missing part of my leg.”
This led them to start documenting their walks in order to inspire others and in particular for Angelina, to raise awareness about amputees. As she says in a podcast interview with Explore Washington State, “I had a lot of negative feedback growing up and was picked on by people who didn’t understand what being an amputee meant. I was still able to do things and I was no different to anyone else, I was just missing part of my leg. On the other side of the situation I was meeting other child amputees in hospital who were going through really tough times and weren’t doing any sports – so I wanted to raise awareness on both sides of what is possible.”
Doing simple, every day tasks can be painful for amputees and at times Angelina dreads the thought of putting on her prosthetic leg because of a sore or swelling in her knee. However, she does it because being active is too important to her not to, “I always want to push myself and challenge my perception of what I am capable of. Hiking does this but it also allows me to go at my own pace and see the world around me. I don’t think you have to be the fastest track runner or fittest Cross-Fit gal to inspire other amputees.”
However, Angelina’s fierce determination to push the boundaries has led to her being in some compromising situations, as she describes when she tried snow shoeing for the very first time.
“I have spent most of my life trying to prove that as an amputee I can do anything I set my mind to. Giving up is a very difficult task for me.”
“One of the most difficult hikes I did in Washington was Mount Pilchuck. I hiked it in January, and because of all the snow, the 6-mile road to the trailhead was closed. With only a mile left, I was really beginning to struggle. I don’t know if it was the altitude, the difficulty of climbing in 4 feet of snow, or my weak heart (a condition that affects many people born with clubfoot), but this climb was kicking my ass. We were running out of daylight and I couldn’t pick up the pace, so we decided it would be safer to turn around. It was really difficult giving up, but I was definitely running out of energy and we needed to make it back down another 8 miles. On our descent I started to have difficulty breathing and felt very nauseous. I wanted so badly to make it to that lookout tower but my body was exhausted. I learned a hard lesson: It is better to acknowledge when you need to turn around than to be too stubborn to give up. I have spent most of my life trying to prove that as an amputee I can do anything I set my mind to. Giving up is a very difficult task for me.”
Not satisfied with the challenges of hiking and snowshoeing, Angelina has also taken part in Dare2Tri Para-triathlon - again showing her determination to smash through any perceived barriers. After finishing her first ever running blade at work on Thursday night, Angelina headed to Pleasant Prairie, WI for a couple of days training before the race on the Sunday. For most of us, the thought of a two day triathlon training camp followed by a race would be enough to make us boil the kettle and bury ourselves under a cosy blanket to drink tea all weekend! For Angelina the battle was not only to train and race but to get used to the freezing waters of the lake, learn how to manoeuvre a bike that she welded and built herself, and master the skill of running using a brand new leg that she had never used before!
“No matter your level of ability set goals for yourself and cross that finish line!”
In her own words, this was her journey to aiming, aspiring and achieving a whole new level of greatness.
“Sunday morning was cloudy, 70 degrees, and very windy. Getting into the lake was pretty chilly, but once I finished up my first 400 meters my body began to cramp up. My chest felt tight, and my heartbeat slowed. A guide swimmer joined up with me and I finished my final 400. I could barely make it to shore, when they brought me in and carried me to a heated car. After 10 minutes in the car I jumped out and biked 10 miles. Then came the run…everyone was well done with the race, but I just had to finish. The Co-Founder and Paralympian, Melissa Stockwell, asked me if she could run with me, which encouraged me to run even harder. We kept pace the entire 3.1 miles and brought up the rear of the race. I was dead last but I completed my first ever triathlon sprint – swimming a 1/2-mile, biking 10 miles, running 3.1 miles. No matter your level of ability set goals for yourself and cross that finish line!”
One thing that we love about Angelina is her raw honesty. Her adventures are challenging, painful, potentially dangerous, and demand every ounce of mental strength and self-belief that she has. However, she continues to push herself and succeed and it is this dedication that we wanted to showcase as a guiding light not only to other amputees, but to anyone out there looking to get out of their comfort zone and push through to their next level of greatness.
For more incredible stories of Angelina’s hiking adventures and her experience of life as an amputee please visit her Instagram accounts @angelina.adventure and @livewithoutlimbs and Blog Page www.boundless-journey.com.
All photography by @boundlessjourneyphotography