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With Sunday’s 44th Honolulu Marathon fast approaching, San Diego’s Cheryl Hile is just like any one of the 30,000 expected participants: filled with butterflies and excitement and ready to toe the starting line adjacent to Ala Moana Beach Park. Yet her journey is different, unique and special with a story that spans all seven continents.
Living with Multiple Sclerosis, Hile is seeking to become the first person with MS to run seven marathons on seven continents in less than one year. The Honolulu Marathon will be race No. 3 on her year-long quest, which began in South Africa last September and will conclude in New Zealand in June.
“I’m pretty sure I found my mountain with marathons and that desire to conquer it,” Hile told Race Results Weekly.
Hile began running marathons in 2000 and quickly fell in love with the sport. Yet a devastating diagnosis came in 2006 that all but stopped her in her tracks: It was Multiple Sclerosis, a neurological disorder that disrupts the central nervous system and prevents messages from being delivered from the brain to the rest of the body.
“I was using running as my means of therapy for depression, because I was depressed about the diagnosis,” Hile remembers. A disease that impacts 2.3 million people worldwide was only a hurdle for Hile.
Hile continued to run but was hampered by foot drop, a common condition of MS where one can’t lift their foot fast enough to walk (or run) without tripping. A neurologist told Hile to lower her expectations when it came to running, words that both angered and inspired Hile to do more than just finish marathons. She vowed to return and leave a bigger impact on the MS community.
While dealing with foot drop, Hile searched for an orthotist to build a custom orthotic that would allow her to run without falling. In 2008 she’d first don the carbon ankle foot orthotic and experience the thrill of running free of fear. A small brace that runs from her ankle to shin would restore her faith in the sport, eliminating falls, bloody knees, and the thought of stopping.
In the eight years since Hile first wore the brace, she’s completed 38 marathons. Now she’s in the middle of her biggest test yet: seven marathons on seven continents. The Honolulu Marathon will be her 52nd marathon overall.
“When I run I roll on the right side and push off on the left. I’ve been able to continue marathon running, much slower now, because I really only have one side of my body to use and push off of. But that’s been my motivation to keep running marathons,” she said.
It was in July of 2015 when Hile and husband Brian—also a marathoner—came up with the idea of tackling seven marathons on seven continents in a year. Both enjoy running and traveling, and wanted to raise money and awareness for the MS community.
Together they planned an itinerary and agenda, starting with the Cape Town Marathon on Sept. 18, then the Buenos Aires Marathon (Oct. 9), followed by Honolulu (Dec. 11), the White Continent Marathon in Antarctica (Jan. 31-Feb. 4, a date dependent on the weather), Tokyo (Feb. 26), Vienna (April 23) and Christchurch (June 12). The cost would be in excess of $53,000, but the possible funds raised and impact on MS awareness would be without limits. (To date Hile has raised $43,740 of the $53,700 needed for the entire trip on crowdrise.com).
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“I’ve always known I’ve wanted to do something big. I wanted to do something to raise money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis, and this seemed the biggest way,” she said. So far, the quest has had it’s share of ups and downs: the Cape Town Marathon went off without a hitch, full of enthusiasm and excitement, with Hile finishing in 4:54:16. Buenos Aires was a bit of a different story, as Hile was ill with a cold and battled hot weather conditions that exacerbated other MS symptoms like feelings of electric shocks throughout her body. But she finished in 5:06:44, and now she has her eyes on Honolulu.
“Honolulu is one of the biggest marathons in America, it’s up there with New York and Boston and Chicago,” she began. “I’ve done those marathons and I’ve always wanted to do something different. I’ve had friends who’ve run Honolulu and they always talk about how spectacular it is: the organization, the welcoming people, the scenery and in general the whole Aloha Spirit. That’s something I’ve wanted to experience, and the race has been on my bucket list for a very long time. This is just a great opportunity to run Honolulu… Where else can you run a marathon in December?”
Hile said she’s looking forward to the trek up and down Diamond Head during the race, a stretch of miles she’s heard have spectacular views and encouraging spectators.
As her dream to conquer seven marathons on seven continents in a year began to take shape and gain steam, Hile connected with other inspiring athletes. Two athletes who she’s gained personal inspiration and advice from are Wendy Booker, the first person with MS to summit Mt. McKinley and six of the seven tallest peaks in the world, and Beth Sanden, the first challenged athlete to do seven marathons on seven continents in a handcycle.
“There have been so many amazing people,” Hile began. “What really touches me most are the people who are newly diagnosed with MS. People have been reaching out to me through Facebook or my blog and they’ve been telling me how they feel better about their prognosis because they know that they can push forward and find ways around difficulties and keep on moving. That’s what really cheers me up and gives me chills. It’s inspiring other people, and that’s really what I wanted to do.”
In Honolulu, Hile aims to finish in the 5-hour range. Once done, she’ll have Africa, South America, and North America checked off her seven on seven journey.
“You want to enjoy and be part of the whole experience,” she said of this race. “That’s really what I’m looking forward to, being part of a large massive group all going for the same goal to finish the marathon. What better place to do that than Honolulu?”