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Appalachian Trail hike honors paralyzed man, raises funds for Shepherd Center
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Cathy McLendon poses for a portrait at her home in Dahlonega, on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. McClendon will be hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise money for the Shepherd Center, where she worked for 36 years as a physical therapist, and to honor her husband Rand Herron, who became paralyzed before they met. - photo by David Barnes

There weren’t many places that treated spinal cord injuries in 1977. 

The Shepherd Center, an Atlanta rehabilitation facility that focuses on spinal cord and brain injuries, had just six beds in a building it didn’t own. One of the few other facilities was Roosevelt Warm Springs in Middle Georgia.

That’s where Rand Herron was treated, and that’s where he met Cathy McLendon, his now wife. And ultimately, that’s what brought McLendon, a Dahlonega resident, to where she is now — planning a through-hike on the Appalachian Trail beginning April 1. As part of that hike, she’s working to raise money for spinal cord injury research at the Shepherd Center.

“It’s in honor of my husband,” said McLendon, a retired physical therapist. “He has been paralyzed from his shoulders down for 40 years.”

Herron broke his neck after diving from a 40-foot rope swing into the Loxahatchee River in Florida when he was 17 years old. He’s been paralyzed ever since, and that’s why McLendon said she decided to enter the field of physical therapy.

She went on from Roosevelt Warm Springs to be one of the first physical therapists employed at the Shepherd Center. Now, after 36 years of being a physical therapist, she is retiring and is able to start the journey she said she’s been planning since her 20s when she met Herron.

“He worked 22 years in the sheriff’s department of Palm Beach County, Florida, and he was very well respected,” McLendon said. “He worked with his disability, and he paved the way for so many people who were disabled.”

She plans to start her hike in Damascus, Virginia, in the middle of the trail. After hiking from there to Mount Katahdin in Maine, she’ll fly back to Damascus and hike toward Springer Mountain.

She said it will take her six months to complete the 2,200-mile hike she has named “Rand’s Walk on the AT.”

Along the way, she’ll be trying to raise $25,000 for the Shepherd Center. So far, with the help of more than 45 supporters, she’s raised over $4,500.

All of the money will go to the Shepherd Center because she said that’s what has helped her husband the most. McLendon wants to help advance the research for spinal cord injuries because she believes that’s what could have helped Herron when he was 17. 

“We have a theory that if Rand was injured today, he would be able to walk in some capacity,” McLendon said.

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