Running a single marathon, let alone seven of them on all seven continents is a feat in itself. But Cheryl Hile hopes to take that up a notch and become the first runner with multiple sclerosis to complete the 7 on 7 challenge in 12 months.
Hile was diagnosed with the neurological disorder in 2006, and at first, the longtime runner continued hitting the streets for daily miles and races. But a year later, Hile found her right foot would flop as she ran, causing her to trip and fall, and went to her doctor.
“She said I have a condition called foot drop, and at that moment she told me that I have to ‘lower my expectations for running.’ That really pissed me off,” Hile tells PEOPLE, explaining that the condition is common with MS.
That anger led to determination to keep going, and Hile found an orthopedist who designed a brace to fit her right leg, called an ankle foot orthotic, and kept on running.
“Since then I’ve completed 32 marathons with the brace,” she says, with all of them over the last eight years.
Running still isn’t as simple as it used to be, though, and with the MS affecting her right side, Hile primarily uses the left side of her body to propel her forward.
“My right side is just kind of along there for the ride,” she explains. “And the brace itself – it’s not really meant to run marathons, so I get cuts and bruises, and I just have to grit through it.”
That grit will come in handy during her seven marathons across the globe, an idea that started with Hile’s hope to give back to the Multiple Sclerosis Society for all their help since her diagnosis.
“I’ve always wanted to do something really big, a really big fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclorosis Society, because for me they were just so key in helping me get over the depression of the diagnosis,” she says. “When you’re first diagnosed, you get scared and you get depressed, and it was the MS Society that really encouraged me to keep going. And since they did that for me, now it’s my turn to give back.”
Hile’s plan is to start in September with the Cape Town, South Africa marathon, and continue around the world, ending with the Christchurch marathon in Australia in June. She’s fundraising on CrowdRise to finance the trip for her and her husband, who provides Hile with necessary support as she’s running like opening water bottles and fuel packets. “I would not be able to do this without him,” she says.
Two of the marathons – Honolulu and Antarctica – pose the greatest challenges as a runner with MS, because both of their climates mess with her body.
In Honolulu, the heat and humidity can cause Hile to fatigue faster than usual, while the cold in Antarctica affects her neurologically.
“I get a lot of electric shocks running up and down my body, so it could potentially be really painful. It’s part of the experience too, it’s mentally trying to rise to the occasion and finish it.”
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But the even thought of finishing all seven marathons “takes my breath away,” Hile says.
“I would just be incredibly happy and thrilled to do this not just for myself, but also for the MS community, to help encourage them and inspire them to keep on moving. They don’t have to run 7 marathons, even if they can even just get up and walk for seven minutes, to do something for themselves.”
“Because the whole idea of being physically active has helped wrap my mind around MS and dealing with the daily pain and the numbness and the spasticity that I experience everyday. So if I can finish this and encourage another person to keep moving, then my job is done.”