As Adele Loar reached the summit of McAfee’s Knob she proudly posed for a picture displaying a flag for No Barriers USA. The 47-year-old retired Air Force Master Sgt. is hiking 2,190 miles, the entire distance of the Appalachian Trail, to raise money for No Barriers USA. This is an organization that helped “clear up her headspace”, as she put it, after being wounded in Iraq.
Loar was a Special Agent assigned to the Strategic Counterintelligence Directorate in Baghdad, Iraq. Her team was tasked with gathering information from Iraqi Civilians to determine current threats. On February 20, 2006, while in route to a military base to deliver critical information the armored vehicle, Loar struck an improvised explosive device (IED). The blast pushed the SUV through a barrier and it fell 30-feet to the road below. The explosion did extensive damage to Loar’s body. Two team members riding with her, OSI Special Agent Daniel J. Kuhlmeier and Army Sgt. Jessie Davila, were killed at impact.
Loar’s injuries included loss of sight in her right eye, damage to her shoulder and a broken jaw. She is also diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury and suffers from survivor guilt.
In the years following the event she struggled to maintain, often making commitments only to give up without finishing. Loar’s PTSD and survivor guilt were affecting her life and pushing her to quit.
In 2014, No Barriers Warriors introduced Loar to backpacking that provides her with therapy in the form of hiking. This organization empowers veterans with disabilities to overcome barriers and unleash their full potential. Loar joined the Warriors to Summit program of No Barriers and climbed Mount Whitney in California with her team. Mount Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States with a summit height of 14,505 feet.
“It took me over eight years to accept and be ok with surviving the attack. Two great men died, who had children and I really felt like the wrong person survived. Then it dawned on me, I was doing an injustice to the fallen, by not living.” —Adele Loar
No Barriers USA was founded in 2003. It was designed to help adults and children with disabilities bring positive change to their lives. They do this by providing transformative educational experiences with a focus on taking people out of their comfort zones and exploring the world. In 2010, No Barriers added its Soldiers to Summits program now known as, No Barriers Warriors. This program helps disabled veterans overcome their physical and mental health challenges.
Loar’s victory on Mount Whitney and the program at No Barriers inspired her to live a “no barriers life”. It was this inspiration that provided the courage and faith in her abilities to meet the challenges associated with hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Loar says she wanted to hike the AT as a fundraiser for No Barriers and to just to celebrate being alive.
“It took me over eight years to accept and be ok with surviving the attack. Two great men died, who had children and I really felt like the wrong person survived. Then it dawned on me, I was doing an injustice to the fallen, by not living.”
Loar began hiking the AT last year, but had to leave the trail when her brother suffered a heart attack. She returned to the AT this May to finish what she started and hopes to have the journey completed sometime in September.
“The Appalachian Trail is helping me find inner peace,” she said. “In the woods, I feel happy. No one cares I’m half blind and I trip every other step, or I can’t remember where I’ve already walked. Everyone is supportive out here. When you get to talk with people, you become part of the trail together. Everyone wants everyone else to make it to Katahdin.”
Each year thousands of disabled veterans return home from service and find greater challenges in their day to day lives than expected. The unseen disabilities are often as crippling as the physical disabilities. Thanks to organizations such as No Barriers USA, returning disabled veterans, like Loar, find help and encouragement that provides a path for strength and healing.
Loar’s unstoppable forward motion, combined with a strong military past and her kind demeanor has earned her the trail name Storm. This twenty-one year Air Force veteran may have returned from service with scars, but she is proving to herself and her country that she is still a valuable member of society and a true soldier.