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Seven years after tragic accident, Lockport teen challenges herself on Appalachian Trail

LOCKPORT – A 19-year-old woman who already has overcome more than most people ever are faced with, is taking on another challenge this weekend.

Selena Torres of Lockport suffered a traumatic brain injury in the same auto accident that killed her mother 7½ years ago. She was hospitalized for six months and spent four months of therapy learning to talk, walk and feed herself again.

Thursday, she was to begin a four-day hiking trip along the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, even though, by her own admission, she hates hiking.

“I just want to know in myself that I can accomplish something this huge,” Selena said last week in an interview in Williamsville’s Glen Park, where she and her “life coach” from People Inc., Megan Logan, were holding their final practice session before the trip.

Logan said she hikes three miles, or at least an hour, every Monday with Selena and another Lockport woman, Morgan Dege, who also was scheduled to go on the trip.

In all, seven People Inc. clients – three women and four men – and four staffers were to drive six hours to their chosen starting point in Danby, Vt. The goal was to hike 40 miles – 10 miles a day for four days – while camping out at night.

“We’re anticipating we’re going to take a lot of breaks,” Logan said. A typical hiker might cover twice as much ground in a day.

The terrain will include plenty of slopes upward and downward.

“It’s more about the human experience,” Logan said. “We all have this adventure in us. Even though they have disabilities, we don’t want to rob them of that.”

The training involved each hiker learning to carry a 40-pound pack on his or her back. The practice hikes were held not only in Glen Park but in the Niagara River Gorge, Devil’s Hole State Park, Bond Lake Park in Lewiston, and in Chestnut Ridge and Hunter’s Creek parks in southern Erie County.

“Everybody who’s going has an intellectual disability or some kind of challenge,” Logan said. “Now with Selena, because the left side of her body was affected, we just had to do some more practice hikes, just to get our footing.”

Logan, who has worked for People Inc. for 10 years, asked Selena, “Do you like to exercise?”

“No,” Selena replied.

“Do you hate it?” Logan asked.

“Yes,” Selena said.

“Do you get mad when people tell you that you should exercise?”

“Yes,” Selena said.

“So this is huge, because she’s pushing herself,” Logan said. “And she never gives up. Sometimes she yells at me, sometimes we argue, because going up these hills, she didn’t like it, but she never gives up. She pushes through the pain. She gets up every time she falls, and she doesn’t want any help getting up.”

Selena said of the Appalachian Trail, “It’s the most challenging thing I can do at this moment.”

She said the walk reminds her of her favorite TV show, “Naked and Afraid.”

“They’re in the woods, and it’s dangerous, and I’m a dangerous kind of girl,” Selena said. “I want to prove everyone wrong and keep going.”

Challenges on the hike will include using a drinking water purification unit, LifeStraw, which treats any water to make it potable. She and Logan demonstrated it by drinking out of Ellicott Creek in Glen Park.

Selena was a front-seat passenger Dec. 21, 2008, when a car driven by her mother, April Torres, 34, fish-tailed out of control on slippery Saunders Settlement Road in Cambria, leading to a head-on crash with an oncoming sport utility vehicle. Her mother was killed and Selena, 12 at the time, was in critical condition for weeks.

Selena is a member of Crossing Borders WNY, a People Inc. group that is sponsoring the hiking trip. She also takes part in Girls Group Lockport, another People Inc. club meant for young women, which gives them the opportunity to do “girl things” with leaders such as Logan.

Selena has two older siblings, Natalie, 22, and Anthony, 20, who were not in the crash. Neither was her father, Isaul Torres, a carpenter at Lockport’s Candlelight Cabinetry.

“My dad inspires me so much. He’s strong and has will power and will do anything,” Selena said.

She graduated from Lockport High School in 2014 and has been taking courses through Niagara County Community College, and the People Inc. NCCC Young Adult Life Transitions Program, which gives members an opportunity to experience college while improving their functional skills.

Selena said she is aiming at becoming a nurse’s aide in a nursing home.

“I’m ready for anything. I’m determined. I’ll get it done,” Selena vowed.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com