Condition: Foot Drop Due to Multiple Sclerosis
Solution: AFO (Ankle Foot Orthosis)
Ten years ago, the life of marathoner Cheryl Hile changed dramatically. What she thought was a nagging minor injury turned out to be much more serious.
Cheryl started having what felt like painful electric shocks in her right bicep. Due to her heavy running and training regimen, her doctor diagnosed the problem as most likely a pinched nerve and sent her home to let it heal. It was only when the shocks became more painful and her arm began going numb that an MRI was ordered. The results showed lesions in her brain and spinal column. Cheryl’s doctor delivered the devastating news that she had Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
The diagnosis hit her hard. But the day her neurologist suggested she “lower her expectations” with running, Cheryl set out to find a way to prove that her expectations would be set on her own terms.
“I’ve always known I wanted to do something big,” Cheryl explains, “I told my husband I wanted to be the first person with MS to run 7 marathons on 7 different continents. And he said ‘ok, let’s do it’."
That began Cheryl’s quest to complete the 7 on 7 Challenge – completing all 7 marathons within a year to raise funds and awareness for the National MS Society. With every mile, she hopes to inspire other people with MS to never stop challenging themselves.
Training for such a monumental challenge would push any runner to the limits of their physical abilities, but for Cheryl, the daily complications of MS include a condition called “foot drop,” which inhibits her right foot from lifting enough to keep a consistent pace, causing her to stumble and fall.
Not to be deterred from her goal, Cheryl visited certified orthotist Ara Mirzaian at Hanger Clinic in Encinitas, California. When Cheryl told Ara her goal, he made it his personal mission to find a solution that would get her across all 7 finish lines. He fit her with a customized device called an Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO), which works to counteract her foot drop and ensure that she lands on her heel when running. It features a carbon graphite footplate inside her shoe and a strut that runs out of her shoe, up the back of her leg, and attaches to a calf cuff.
In addition to the AFO, Ara customized a soft foot orthosis to absorb shock and provide comfort as she runs.
“I just want to make sure that her gait is natural and her stride is even on both sides,” explains Ara, “When we watch her run, we watch for those details and make adjustments on the spot.”
"That level of commitment and attention to detail is the reason Cheryl says,“ when I found Hanger Clinic, it was a total game-changer for me.”
For now, Cheryl is focused on training with her husband, Brian, by her side. Because of her MS, Cheryl has a difficult time opening water bottles and gel packets, both necessary during long runs. So Brian
runs with her to provide assistance and offer mental and emotional support. He’ll be with her on all 7 of the marathons, which will take them to South Africa, Argentina, Honolulu, Antarctica, Tokyo, Austria and New Zealand within the course of a year.
Despite her diagnosis, Cheryl considers herself a lucky person and is devoted to inspiring others with MS. “I know what it’s like to have doctors tell you that you can’t do something. So if I can be some sort of positive example to never give up, then I would be so happy.”
>>See Cheryl on The Doctor's Show
Cape Town Marathon in South Africa - September 2016
One of seven marathons in seven continents done! 4:51:51 at the Cape Town Marathon!
- Cheryl Hile
Buenos Aires Marathon in South America - October 2016
I had a lot of struggles yesterday. Everything from a no-show taxi, panicking trying to get to the marathon, labored breathing due to my cough, MS symptoms that made my skin very painful… The marathon itself was fantastic … Only a tiny block had cobble stones, otherwise the surface was perfect for my leg. The route gave us a fantastic tour of the city. Buenos Aires is beautiful!...I struggled so much that day with heat, stress, pain, illness that it made the finish line even more sweet!
- Cheers, Cheryl
Honolulu Marathon in Hawaii - December 2016
The marathon start was so amazing! Fireworks led the runners in the pitch dark (5:00 start and sunrise wasn't until 7:00). However.... I lost my iPhone within a minute or two after crossing the start line… when I saw the thousands of runners, I knew I could not go back. I had to let it go and not worry about it.
It was 72 at the start, but high humidity. It was hot, but I felt okay and the mile markers came up fast. The first 16 miles were good. However, I started to tire quickly once the sun came out full force. My leg started to feel very heavy. The last 9 miles were we tough. A lot of people walked and so did we… But we made it! And....
A kind soul found my iPhone and carried it for 26 miles from the start all the way to the finish! I got my phone back!!!
Antarctica Marathon - January 2017
Success! 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.
I'll elaborate more when I get home and post on my blog. I didn't want to carry a laptop due to theft. I will post more pictures once we download from the big camera and GoPro. I also posted some pics on Facebook Cheryl Hile 7 on 7.
Thank you all for your support!
- Love, Cheryl
Marathon day had some sun, a few patches of really light rain, and steady 15-20 mph swirling wind. The temps were in the high 40's which is fine for me. I run better in the cold, but I did have some MS problems in the first 10 kilometers.
I was a bit stressed because there were a lot of half marathoners weaving in and out of the runners. I was worried someone would trip me. Stress coupled with the cold made the right side of my body painful, like snakes crawling inside my back and arm.
Once everyone settled into their pace and spread out, I felt more comfortable and I really started to enjoy the run.
Vienna is a gorgeous city and the baroque cathedrals and neoclassical buildings kept me going. They even had classical music blasting from speakers as we ran through the parks!
At about 30 kilometers, I had an inkling I could finish under 5:00. I was feeling good and had fantasies of 4:40, but I know the last miles of a marathon can break you. Further, in the case of Vienna, the wind was breaking me.
Brian helped to push me to 4:46:19. I was thrilled. I have not run in the 4:40's since 2013. This was huge for me. It was an awesome way to celebrate my 55th marathon!
Check back often for more pictures and stories from Cheryl Hile as she accomplishes her quest to finish.