Seven Marathons on Seven Continents with MS (Part 1)

Claudia Dieckmann
Written by
Claudia Dieckmann

Cheryl Hile is a wife and runner learning to live with multiple sclerosis. Together with her husband Brian, she plans to embark on an adventure to become the first person with MS to run seven marathons on seven continents, all in only 12 months! Here she talks with LLY blogger Claudia Dieckmann about her life before and after her diagnosis.

Claudia: Hello Cheryl! You have a big adventure ahead of you! But before we get into the details, tell us about YOU before the diagnosis. What were you like?

Cheryl: I was a very cheery person. When I was diagnosed, I was depressed for a while. Although I have always been the type to smile no matter what, I realized I was smiling on the outside, while drowning in sadness inside. It was not until six months after my diagnosis when I heard a joke that I actually laughed wholeheartedly at, without the little voice inside my head saying, “Why are you laughing? You have MS. You are not happy.”

I have lived with MS now for 10 years, and feel like I am truly happy again. I smile, no matter how harsh my “invisible” MS symptoms are.

Claudia: Where are you from and how did you make your way to San Diego?

Cheryl: I was born in Toronto, Canada and moved to California when I was four-years-old. I have lived in Southern California most of my life, mainly San Diego. My husband, Brian, and I moved to Seattle in 2010 (I was diagnosed in 2006) because I was going through a tough time and wanted to live in a state with more progressive ideas for treatment. It was a good move, because I found a fantastic neurologist who helped stabilize my MS. We moved back to San Diego after three years because San Diego, simply, is home.

Claudia: You were married in 2005. How does your husband Brian feel about your MS? How does your family handle it?

Cheryl: I was diagnosed a little over a year after our wedding. When I was diagnosed, I told Brian the warranty was only good for a year, so he could not return me!

Brian is the love of my life. He will do anything and everything for me. We moved to Seattle, 1,200 miles away from our home in San Diego, just for the benefit of my health. Brian also now runs every one 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!

We renewed our wedding vows in the Bahamas in 2015. It was just the two of us and the minister (plus a couple of hotel staff) out on the cliffs at the edge of a private island. The minister told us to repeat after him, “Today, I am marrying my best friend.” Brian and I looked at each other and our eyes swelled with tears. No matter what terrible things life presents to us, we know we can take on any challenge together.

Claudia: What do you do for a living?

Cheryl: I was (and still am) a fund manager in the Computer Science & Engineering Department at the University of California, San Diego. After 16 years of full time work, I just recently switched to part time due to afternoon fatigue that causes me cognitive problems. I’m not as sharp with my calculations or decision making, which is really bad for a person who manages other peoples’ money! I am incredibly lucky to have a great group of co-workers who accommodate my needs.

Claudia: What do you do for fun? Has that changed since your MS diagnosis?

Cheryl: Before MS, our idea of a good time was running a marathon! And it still is! But we have expanded our horizons since my diagnosis. Because running is more difficult for me now, I wear an ankle foot orthotic to accommodate my foot drop, and on some days, my leg feels extra heavy. So, it is nice to have other activities where I can excel and feel good about my body. We now enjoy taking in the ocean scenery on our early morning bike rides along the Pacific Coast Highway. We also like to hunt for sea glass.

Claudia: Can you tell us more about your diagnosis?

Cheryl: I was diagnosed on October 24, 2006, although I know now that I had MS maybe two years prior to diagnosis. I had a bad episode of vertigo and I had bouts of unusual pain along my right arm. The neuropathic pain returned strongly in January 2006. Because I am relatively athletic, MS was the last thing on the doctor’s mind, so it took a long nine months to be approved for an MRI and eventually reach the right diagnosis.

I was complete devastated, and as I mentioned, I had to go on antidepressants. I used running as a form of therapy, but I soon started tripping and falling. My neurologist said it was foot drop, a common symptom of MS. I was told to “lower my expectations” for running. That only motivated me to become stronger and I adopted a new mantra: do what you can and never give up. I found an awesome orthotist who made a carbon fiber ankle-foot orthotic (AFO) for me. I learned how to run with the device and since 2008 I have completed over 30 marathons with my AFO!

Claudia: You mention you used running to help deal with the depression after receiving the MS diagnosis. Have you always been a runner? Do you still use running as a management tool for your MS?

Cheryl: I was a runner before MS and I am still a runner. Running is a great tool for me to manage my MS, because not only is it a stress reliever but also I know the brain is neuroplastic. I believe running keeps my brain engaged and motivated to reroute the pathways to help keep me in motion.

Claudia: How has MS changed your life?

Cheryl: I never would have admitted this five years ago, but MS has made me a stronger person. I have had to find ways to keep doing the things I love. I may not be the fastest person on the racecourse, but at least I am trying.

This concludes part one of our two-part series on Cheryl Hile. In part two, Cheryl will talk more about her dream of running seven marathons in seven continents. We can’t wait!

To learn more about Cheryl, visit her blog, Facebook page or CrowdRise!

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