Back in September, I told you about Cheryl Hile. Cheryl is a young woman with MS whose goal is to become the first person with MS to run in seven marathons on seven continents.
In September, she had just completed her first marathon in Cape Town, South Africa. Since then, she and her husband Brian, who runs alongside her, have run in Buenos Aires, Honolulu and… Antarctica!
On the last day of January, Cheryl completed the biggie: Antarctica! Here’s what she emailed friends a few days ago:
“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.”
How does she do it?
Cheryl worked with an orthotist who fit her with a light, durable carbon fiber brace, called an Ankle-Foot Orthotic (AFO). It holds her dropped foot at an angle that allows her to run. In fact, she has a half-dozen AFOs, each for a different running/walking situation.
In addition to foot drop, Cheryl had four exacerbations in one year that significantly weakened the right side of her body. At one point she could lift her right leg only an inch off the ground. Cheryl recovered a bit and can now lift that leg about 4-5 inches. She says her foot drop, coupled with a weak thigh, makes her a much slower runner than she used to be. Cheryl pushes off with the left side of her body and, she says, the right side of her body is basically “along for the ride. “I have a funny gait and my right leg swings out, so watch out if you are running next to me!”
Very few of us can be Cheryl Hile, who is off to run the Tokyo marathon next. Running a marathon is about as possible for me as making a trip to Mars. But, as Cheryl writes on her website: “I hope my mission encourages you to create goals to move, whether it means walking 7 miles a week or using your cane to walk 7 meters from your front door to your mailbox.” This past year I worked up to 10 minutes on a stationary bike. More recently, I’ve given myself the simple goal of trying to walk some each day and use my scooter less.
We all can create our own little marathons.