Whether we think about it or not, all of us are running a race. A race against time. Every second of every day, we’re getting older. And as we age, our bodies slowly conspire against us. It’s something too many of us take for granted. But not marathon runner Cheryl Hile.
Inspired by her husband, Brian, Cheryl started running daily sixteen years ago. Her desire to feel better turned into an obsession, and together, they have finished 48 marathons. By itself, that’s exemplary. But Cheryl’s accomplishments are only the beginning.
In 2006, Cheryl was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. If most of us were given such devastating news, we would roll over and quit. Not Cheryl. In the face of pain, numbness, and exhaustion, she continued to train alongside her husband. The following year, Cheryl finished the New York City Marathon. It wasn’t easy, as she had developed foot drop, a complication of MS that caused her to stumble repeatedly along the 26-mile course.
Instead of feeling defeated, Cheryl found a solution: a customized carbon-fiber ankle-foot orthotic that has allowed her to continue running. In fact, Cheryl has doubled down, setting a goal that would seem impossible to the most fit of athletes: to be the first person with MS to run seven marathons on seven continents in 12 months. You read that right.
That’s crazy. In a good way. Conventional wisdom holds that someone diagnosed with MS should dial back, to accept their fate, that intensive training might be counterproductive. Even Cheryl’s ex-neurologist advised her to “lower her expectations.”
Except for one thing: Cheryl ignores the doubters and doesn’t give up.
Since her diagnosis, Cheryl and Brian have completed more than 30 marathons and 25 half marathons. Brian runs alongside Cheryl, offering support such as carrying her water bottle and energy gels when Cheryl’s right arm and hand suffer weakness and numbness along the route.
It would seem counterproductive to exercise as much as she does. But Cheryl finds that her running decreases the stress of MS symptoms, which she describes as “living a life of constant jet lag.”
Because of the lesions in Cheryl’s brain resulting from MS, daily exercise helps promote neural plasticity, in effect rewiring the signals in her brain. The repetitive motion of her running helps improve Cheryl’s strength and endurance. Doctors once believed that exercise was not good for MS. But because of the results that people like Cheryl living with MS have had from routine workouts, physicians have now accept that exercise is beneficial.
Along with their commitment to daily exercise, Cheryl and Brian are health conscious about their diet. At home and when traveling for marathons, they shop local grocery stores and farmers’ markets to prepare their own meals. Their vegetarian diet helps them stay at a competitive weight for their races, and reduces the inflammation in Cheryl’s body particularly because of the prescription medicines she must take.
Seven Marathons. Seven Continents. In just 12 months.
September, 2016: Cape Town Marathon, South Africa
October, 2016: Buenos Aries Marathon, Argentina
December, 2016: Honolulu Marathon, Hawaii
January, 2017: White Continent Marathon, Antarctica (yes, that Antarctica)
February, 2017: Tokyo Marathon, Japan
April 2017: London Marathon, United Kingdom
June 2017: Christchurch Marathon, New Zealand
By day, Cheryl manages contracts and grants at the University of California San Diego. In addition, she works with other MS sufferers to help them know what is possible. Cheryl is also a speaker and patient advocate for Biogen, a leader in Multiple Sclerosis research and therapies.
In person, Cheryl is electric. Beaming a constant, beautiful smile, Cheryl is gracious, optimistic, engaging, and humble. You feel energized just being around her. It’s a reflection of her focus and inner strength. Yet, talking with her, Cheryl laughs and insists that she “is just a regular person.” Well, yes and no. Cheryl is a regular person with big dreams and an unquenched spirit that won’t let anything in life slow her down. Not even one more mile to run.
Cheryl wants to live life on her own terms, and not let MS rule her. She makes every day count. Cheryl knows she is in a race against time, as MS continues to ravage her body. The good news: Cheryl is winning. And living an amazing life with her loving husband.
All too often, we take our days on earth and all the blessings we have for granted. We let life happen to us. We ignore our health until it’s too late. But life doesn’t have to be that way.
It’s never too late to reinvent ourselves, to live every day like it’s our last. To see every day as a race to finish, to pursue health and happiness like we do our careers. There’s nothing we can’t accomplish. No mountain too high. No distance too great. Just ask Cheryl Hile.
UPDATE: As of September, 2016, Cheryl and her husband, Brian, completed the first of their seven marathons, in Cape Town, South Africa. Her inspiring story has also caught the attention of the world's news media, featuring her on national TV talk shows, and articles like this one on Fox News. Well done, Cheryl!
To follow and sponsor Cheryl on her race against MS, visit:
Cheryl’s blog: http://www.cherylhile.com/
Crowdrise (fundraising): https://www.crowdrise.com/cherylhile7on7
National MS Society: http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/CherylHile7on7