Follow cheryl as she tackles
UPDATE (July 2017): Cheryl initially set out to run 7 marathons on each of the 7 continents in less than a year. Along her journey, she realized it was questionable whether or not New Zealand (her last scheduled marathon) counted as part of the Australian continent. Being the detail-oriented, incredibly ambitious person she is, Cheryl decided to add a marathon to her journey in Sydney, Australia, to ensure the Australian continent was accounted for.
Ten years ago, the life of marathoner Cheryl Hile changed dramatically. What she thought was a nagging minor injury turned out to be much more serious.
Cheryl started having what felt like painful electric shocks in her right bicep. Due to her heavy running and training regimen, her doctor diagnosed the problem as most likely a pinched nerve and sent her home to let it heal. It was only when the shocks became more painful and her arm began going numb that an MRI was ordered. The results showed lesions in her brain and spinal column. Cheryl’s doctor delivered the devastating news that she had Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
The diagnosis hit her hard. But the day her neurologist suggested she “lower her expectations” with running, Cheryl set out to find a way to prove that her expectations would be set on her own terms.
“I’ve always known I wanted to do something big,” Cheryl explains, “I told my husband I wanted to be the first person with MS to run 7 marathons on 7 different continents. And he said ‘ok, let’s do it’."
That began Cheryl’s quest to complete the 7 on 7 Challenge – completing all 7 marathons within a year to raise funds and awareness for the National MS Society. With every mile, she hopes to inspire other people with MS to never stop challenging themselves.
Training for such a monumental challenge would push any runner to the limits of their physical abilities, but for Cheryl, the daily complications of MS include a condition called “foot drop,” which inhibits her right foot from lifting enough to keep a consistent pace, causing her to stumble and fall.
Not to be deterred from her goal, Cheryl visited certified orthotist Ara Mirzaian at Hanger Clinic in Encinitas, California. When Cheryl told Ara her goal, he made it his personal mission to find a solution that would get her across all 7 finish lines. He fit her with a customized device called an Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO), which works to counteract her foot drop and ensure that she lands on her heel when running. It features a carbon graphite footplate inside her shoe and a strut that runs out of her shoe, up the back of her leg, and attaches to a calf cuff.
In addition to the AFO, Ara customized a soft foot orthosis to absorb shock and provide comfort as she runs.
“I just want to make sure that her gait is natural and her stride is even on both sides,” explains Ara, “When we watch her run, we watch for those details and make adjustments on the spot.”
"That level of commitment and attention to detail is the reason Cheryl says,“ when I found Hanger Clinic, it was a total game-changer for me."
For now, Cheryl is focused on training with her husband, Brian, by her side. Because of her MS, Cheryl has a difficult time opening water bottles and gel packets, both necessary during long runs. So Brian runs with her to provide assistance and offer mental and emotional support. He’ll be with her at all 8 marathons, which will take them to South Africa, Argentina, Honolulu, Antarctica, Tokyo, Austria, New Zealand, and Australia within the course of a year.
Despite her diagnosis, Cheryl considers herself a lucky person and is devoted to inspiring others with MS. “I know what it’s like to have doctors tell you that you can’t do something. So if I can be some sort of positive example to never give up, then I would be so happy.”
See Cheryl on The Doctor's Show
8 Marathons on 7 Continents in 12 Months
Buenos Aires Marathon in South America - October 2016
I had a lot of struggles yesterday. Everything from a no-show taxi, panicking trying to get to the marathon, labored breathing due to my cough, MS symptoms that made my skin very painful… The marathon itself was fantastic … Only a tiny block had cobble stones, otherwise the surface was perfect for my leg. The route gave us a fantastic tour of the city. Buenos Aires is beautiful!...I struggled so much that day with heat, stress, pain, illness that it made the finish line even more sweet!
- Cheers, Cheryl
Honolulu Marathon in Hawaii - December 2016
The marathon start was so amazing! Fireworks led the runners in the pitch dark (5:00 start and sunrise wasn't until 7:00). However.... I lost my iPhone within a minute or two after crossing the start line… when I saw the thousands of runners, I knew I could not go back. I had to let it go and not worry about it.
It was 72 at the start, but high humidity. It was hot, but I felt okay and the mile markers came up fast. The first 16 miles were good. However, I started to tire quickly once the sun came out full force. My leg started to feel very heavy. The last 9 miles were we tough. A lot of people walked and so did we… But we made it! And....
A kind soul found my iPhone and carried it for 26 miles from the start all the way to the finish! I got my phone back!!!
- Cheers, Cheryl
Antarctica Marathon - January 2017
Success! We were extremely lucky. We were able to fly into Antarctica on our second window of opportunity (first opportunity was 3:00AM 1/31, then delayed to 9:00AM).
We landed at noon, walked 2 miles to base camp, peed in a bucket? and took off running at 1:00PM. Brian and I ran for almost 8 hours in relatively ideal 30-34F weather, but on the most hideous, unforgiving, painful dirt-mud-water-rock-boulder trail EVER!
We walked a lot. We also stopped at base camp 10 times for various reasons (hungry for Perfect Bars, Brian needing to change shoes, drop off clothes, get clothes, bucket brakes...). So that added a significant amount of time.
It was very painful on everyone's feet. I had a huge 1/2 inch blister on the medial side of my left heel because of the difficult terrain (my AFO is on my right). The boulders and rocks were tough, but Brian and I are tough and we trudged through as the penguins spectated.
Antarctica was not what I expected. There were glaciers in the background, but very little snow on the ground. It was also alarmingly polluted. At times I felt sad during the run.
I'll elaborate more when I get home and post on my blog. I didn't want to carry a laptop due to theft. I will post more pictures once we download from the big camera and GoPro. I also posted some pics on Facebook Cheryl Hile 7 on 7.
Thank you all for your support!
- Love, Cheryl
Tokyo Marathon - February 2017
Marathon day was filled with excitement and nerves, just like any other marathon, but there was added pressure. Nippon TV asked me to meet them at the host hotel before the race. I thought it was for a follow-up interview, but no. They assigned two men, Mr. Takashi Yamaba and Mr. Kazukata Yamashita to run with Brian and me for the entire 26.2 miles! They did not carry cameras. It was their job to follow us and alert the news crew along the course for possible interviews. I felt bad because Takashi and Kazukata are 4 hour marathoners and they had to run really slowly with me. I know it is hard when you cannot run your own pace because it changes your natural gait.
Tokyo Marathon was a very emotional for me. Ten years ago I ran the New York City Marathon. It is every runner’s dream to be in that race, but it was a nightmare for me. I was newly diagnosed and I fell almost a dozen times. I had to run with my head hanging down, looking at the ground, ready to catch myself in case I fell. That was the day I realized I had a serious disease and I ran with a heavy heart because I felt defeated.
Tokyo Marathon is similar to New York City. It is one of the “Big Six” and everyone wants to run it. The course takes you through diverse neighborhoods with temples and cheering crowds along the way. Brian and I felt like we were part of something big. I was able to run with my head held high and enjoy the marathon without that nagging fear of falling. It was redemption!
- Love, Cheryl
Vienna Marathon - April 2017
Marathon day had some sun, a few patches of really light rain, and steady 15-20 mph swirling wind. The temps were in the high 40's which is fine for me. I run better in the cold, but I did have some MS problems in the first 10 kilometers.
I was a bit stressed because there were a lot of half marathoners weaving in and out of the runners. I was worried someone would trip me. Stress coupled with the cold made the right side of my body painful, like snakes crawling inside my back and arm.
Once everyone settled into their pace and spread out, I felt more comfortable and I really started to enjoy the run.
Vienna is a gorgeous city and the baroque cathedrals and neoclassical buildings kept me going. They even had classical music blasting from speakers as we ran through the parks!
At about 30 kilometers, I had an inkling I could finish under 5:00. I was feeling good and had fantasies of 4:40, but I know the last miles of a marathon can break you. Further, in the case of Vienna, the wind was breaking me.
Brian helped to push me to 4:46:19. I was thrilled. I have not run in the 4:40's since 2013. This was huge for me. It was an awesome way to celebrate my 55th marathon!
- Love, Cheryl
Christchurch Marathon - June 2017
Hello awesome friends, It has been three days since the marathon and I am still a bit lost for words
Weather was 38-43F with high winds from the south (i.e. Antarctic). It rained anywhere from moderate to moderately hard (except when it cleared up the last 5 minutes of our run). We wore a Coolcore base layer, a throw away sweater and a poncho. We never threw anything away...
The full marathon had one big loop and two smaller loops. We ran in the "Red Zone" for a lot of the race and those roads are poor - uneven, pot holes, muddy, rocky and not paved -because it is liquefaction and sinking
The police/traffic protection was great, but the water stations were very sparse at 4-5 miles apart. It's ironic to be dehydrated in the pouring rain.
My dear friend Kim was waiting for us at the end. I felt bad for taking so long and making her stay out in the rain. She took some picture and these are probably the only time I smiled during the run.
Really, though. I did try to stay positive, but it's hard to be happy when you're miserable. Brian and I were so numb at the end. There was barely any emotion. I guess the good part is we proved to be mentally and physically tough in adverse conditions... kind of like dealing with MS.
Running in the rain was a bummer way to celebrate my 43rd birthday and my 43rd marathon with MS. I am really glad to have Sydney marathon on September 17th. I know it will be redemption. I want to end this adventure on a high note!
Sydney Marathon - September 2017
Marathon morning was filled with nerves. That’s nothing new. But the difference was that this was the last marathon of the adventure. Even if National Geographic named Greenland as a 9th continent, Sydney Marathon was the last. I was already at the 365th day of my goal and I had to finish this marathon in Australia no matter what. No pressure!
I did start to hurt halfway through the run. I was fighting a hamstring injury and had to change my gait, which made my hips hurt. I also have Morton’s Neuroma which feels like a hard rock on the ball of my foot. My entire right leg and foot was in pain, but also numb at the same time. Stupid Multiple Sclerosis! Still, I tried to think of positive thoughts (my biggest lesson from Buenos Aires Marathon last October).
To keep my mind occupied from the pain, I thought of the inspirational people in my life. I always dedicate my 13th mile to Nancy Jenkins, who lives with a rare disorder called Stiff Persons Syndrome. She was a half marathon runner and now I think of her during mile 13 of any run. I thought of my friends Carlyn Shaw, Tricia Stirling and Karen Ireland to get me through those dark miles. I also focused a lot on matching my stride with Brian’s soft flowing footsteps. He is always next to me, helping me push forward.
The finish was incredibly emotional for me. I was elated, stunned we finished, and incredibly grateful for the support. I am actually proud of myself. I have low self-esteem. I blame myself for everything, but I actually felt pride for myself. That is a weird feeling, but nice to experience it!
I’m melancholy the 7 on 7 is done. I’m beyond thrilled to have accomplished my goal and I’m happy my legs can now rest. Yet, I’m sad. This has been a huge part of my life for two years - one year of fundraising and planning, and another year of training and running. It has been an amazing ride and now I feel a bit lost. What should the next adventure be?