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Priya Motiani

JWB Blogger

“My Husband Is My Biggest Cheerleader,” Says Cheryl, The Marathon Runner With MS

  • JWB Post
  •  July 30, 2016


There are people who inspire you, and then there are those rare ones who shake each and every nerve of your being and goad you into action through their inspirational deeds.

One such is Cheryl Hile. Remember we were telling you about her a few days back?

She is a marathon runner, who, after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in the year 2006 only got stronger and even more confident. Of course, she had her struggle with depression in between.

And for her, she must’ve emerged out of that phase with her mission to run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 12 months. But for us, she surfaced as an epitome of pure strength. Which is why, we got in touch with her to know more about her – her life, her dreams, her obstacles, and her love. Here’s presenting the excerpts from our conversation:

JWB: Introduce yourself …

In your words: I am a very determined person, and I try to keep a positive outlook on life. I am also a very nice person and will go out of my way to help others. I love running and have completed 49 marathons, despite having Multiple Sclerosis.

In the words of your husband: Cheryl is my joy, and I admire her courageous pursuit of lofty goals. In spite of a challenging condition, she does all she can to give herself the best chance and in so doing it’s so great to see how others notice and resolve to try as hard as she does.

In the words of your doctor: Cheryl is a lovely lady that continues to inspire.

JWB: Did you take up running only as a way of battling depression or were you always into the field?

Cheryl: I’ve been running marathons since 2000, and I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2006. I was shocked and scared. I started getting depressed, but my husband, Brian, is also a runner and he encouraged me to keep on exercising. I soon found that just going out for a 30-minute run would clear my head and make me feel better. so I kept running, and I have not stopped! Ten years after diagnosis, I sometimes have a minor panic attack, but I am better at handling myself now.

JWB: Tell us about the thoughts that ran through your mind while you were on your first run.

Cheryl: My very first race was a marathon, and I registered before starting the training. My first run was painful. It was a half mile run and in the middle, I had to stop. I began to cry and thought to myself, “How am I ever going to get through 26.2 miles!” However, I persisted, and I loved the whole experience of training. I was hooked on running!

JWB: How have you evolved as a woman ever since you started running? Tell us about a personal strength that you discovered on this journey.

Cheryl: When I started running, it was mostly men. Sometimes, I felt awkward at the starting line with so many guys around, but I soon started feeling empowered. Especially when I grew strong enough to outrun some of them! More than physical strength (I’m only 5’1” at 102 pounds), I have developed mental fortitude. Despite MS and fatigue, I am very focused on my goals and will get to the finish line no matter what.

JWB: Any emotionally special memory of a race or a marathon that you’d like to share with us?

Cheryl: At the New York City Marathon in 2007, I realized something was terribly wrong with my right leg. I almost fell more than a dozen times. I had to run with my head hanging down, looking at the ground, ready to catch myself. I could not look up at the skyscrapers or give high-5s to the thousands of spectators lining the course. I was amongst the 40,000 runners, and yet I felt so alone. I would like to run NYC Marathon again one day.

JWB: Tell us something about your husband and the love marathons you two run.

Cheryl: Brian is the love of my life. We have been together for over 20 years, and we still giggle like school children. We renewed our vows last year in the Bahamas. It was just the two of us out on a private island with the minister. When the minister told us to repeat, “Today I am marrying my best friend” we lost it. Tears started welling in our eyes, and we could not speak! We had to take a moment to catch our breath. That is how close we are. It is fitting that we are embarking on a huge task of running seven continents together. I know we can do it.

JWB: How did the idea of initiating 7 on 7 in12 click?

Cheryl: The National Multiple Sclerosis Society educated me about the disease and encouraged me to push forward. I have been wanting to do a fundraiser for them as an opportunity to give back to them and the MS community.

I was inspired last Independence Day on July 4, 2015. I had finished a very patriotic 5K, and it hit me! I turned to Brian and said, “I want to be the first person with MS to run 7 marathons on 7 continents, and I want to do it in a year.” He said, “Okay!”

JWB: Give a few tips on successfully crowd-funding one’s cause?

Cheryl: I am shy and find it very hard to fundraise and to promote myself. I do not like to approach people to ask for money, and I am not good at talking about myself. So, my fundraiser is going much slower than I anticipated. I am just now realizing I need to be more explicit about asking people to hit that donation button. That said, please click on my link CrowdRise and make a donation!

My biggest tips for people are: promote yourself with confidence and do not be afraid to ask people for money, post a lot of media (videos and pictures on FB, IG, Twitter, etc…) and try to pair with a viable cause or non-profit so your intentions are clear to your donors.

JWB: Which continent are you the most excited to set foot on?

Cheryl: I am excited about all the races, but Antarctica is the most anticipated of the 7 continents. I have no idea what it will be like to run in vast whiteness and in potentially 0 degree Fahrenheit (if we are lucky!) I am nervous, but I know I can do it.

JWB: Do you think every country has its own running culture? Which one appeals you the most?

Cheryl: I think in general most marathon runners around the globe are the same: polite, motivated, and supportive towards each other. Perhaps it is different for the top three finishers!

On marathon day, we are all one big mass of humanity with the same goal of making it to the finish line. I think the cultural experience will come in the languages spoken around me, the variety of architecture, the nutrition served on the course, and all the new friends I make along the way. I’m looking forward to ALL of them!

JWB: Tell us about your favorite…

Laugh out loud moment: Five months after I was diagnosed my boss told me a really bad joke. It was my first wholehearted, deep-in-the-belly laugh where I did not have a little voice inside my head telling me I was unhappy.

Cry out loud moment: The same boss mentioned above passed away last February. I had a dream where someone came into my office telling me everything was okay. He really did not die. I woke up excited, only to realize it was just a dream.

Shout out loud moment: My hero is Wayne Gretzky. I was at the game where he shot his 802nd goal to break Gordie Howe’s record. Everyone was on their feet cheering and yelling for 15 minutes. I lost my voice!

JWB: Tell us about people in your cheer team when you run.

Cheryl: My husband is my biggest cheerleader. He runs all of my marathons with me. He is a fast runner and can complete a marathon in less than four hours. However, he declares it is more enjoyable running with me in the middle of the pack despite my complaining!

One of my symptoms of MS is called foot drop. I cannot lift my own foot fast enough to run. My foot drags and I trip and fall. So, the other important person on my running team is my orthotist who outfits me with an ankle-foot orthotic (AFO) every year. The AFO prevents me from falling. I could not run without this medical device.

JWB: Other than racing, any other prohibitions set by the doctors that you’ve broken?

Cheryl: HAHA! No, I try to be a good patient!

JWB: Share with us your ultimate body positivity mantra.

Cheryl: Pathway, Pathway, Pathway. I say these words when I get tired. I am telling my brain to create new neural pathways around the MS lesions so that I can keep pushing forward.

I don’t know why, but Cheryl’s persona, as I have perceived it, reminds me of a set of very favorite lines from a poem by Rudyard Kipling –

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”

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