Cheryl Hile: MS Diagnosis Doesn’t Stop Road Warrior from Running Marathons

September 9, 2019
Hanger Clinic

Cheryl Hile’s life changed dramatically when a nagging minor injury turned out to be much more serious.

When athlete and marathon runner, Cheryl Hile, started feeling painful electric shocks in her right bicep, her doctor diagnosed the problem as a pinched nerve and sent her home. It was only when the shocks became more painful and her arm began going numb that her doctor ordered an MRI, which showed lesions in her brain and spinal column. It was 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 could be set on her own terms.

“I’ve always known I wanted to do something big,” Cheryl explained. “I told my husband that 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. She completed the challenge, inspiring 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 presented 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 seven finish lines.

He fit her with a customized device called an Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFO), which works to counteract her foot drop and ensure 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 her gait is natural and her stride is even on both sides,” explained 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. Brian runs with her to provide assistance and offer mental and emotional support.

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.

Cheryl Hile

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