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Legally blind hiker conquers Maine's highest peak

Sara Nicols, who is legally blind, took up hiking just seven months ago. Two weeks ago, she climbed up to the top of the highest mountain in Maine. (Courtesy of{ }Sara Nicols)

PORTLAND, Maine (WGME) — Many folks will be hitting the trails over the next several months, hiking their favorite mountain.

In Maine, the holy grail has always been Mount Katahdin.

It's a challenge for any experienced hiker, but imagine climbing 5,269 feet if you were legally blind. That's exactly what a Portland woman just accomplished.

Seven years ago at the beach, something started happening to Sara Nicols that totally changed her life.

"It slowly but quickly progressed to a larger and larger blurry spot in that one eye and then it transferred over to the other eye,” she said.

Sara was diagnosed with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. Within a month, she was legally blind.

"There's these human emotions that came in. Lack of coping skills and finding coping skills and realizing how did I want to live in my new life,” she said.

It was a struggle.

"I'd like to say it was, at first, devastating, but through learning my potential, once I started to learn what I could do after being affected with vision loss, it wasn't devastating anymore,” Sara said.

That included getting a job at the Iris Network where she helps other people with visual impairments.

Then something else happened that changed her life. Seven months ago, Sara discovered hiking.

"I had heard some friends talking about it and it sounded like fun, so I went shopping at L.L. Bean and I found a pair of hiking boots that were on sale and I just said I’m going to hike, and I bought them,” she said.

Sara started off with short hikes, built up to some four-mile journeys, and then graduated to summiting 4,000 mountains.

Then on June 12, Sara climbed up the tallest mountain in Maine with her friend Dawn; a mountain described as the most dangerous one on the Appalachian Trail.

"The hiker in front of me, in this case, it was Dawn. She had very bright colored gaiters on her boots that with the contrast against the rocks, I could somewhat see when her foot would go up or down to see where my next step was,” Sara said.

It took five hours and lots of work, but Sara made it to the summit.

“All of Katahdin can be overwhelming, but if I just slow it down and take it one step at a time and focus on enjoying it for each step, I’m able to do it,” she said.

She conquered Katahdin, but for Sara, it was about a lot more than just a hiking up a mountain.

"I didn't think I could do this last year. I didn't think I could do this five years ago, but today I recognize that a lot of my barriers in life are self-imposed and I can overcome them and to show that to my fellow visually impaired clients and friends, it's a great motivator,” Sara said.

So, what's next for Sara? She says she plans on climbing all 67 of the 4,000 foot mountains in New England.