Cheryl Hile’s Unstoppable Story
Thirty-four. That’s how many marathons Cheryl Hile has run with multiple sclerosis (MS). As an avid runner for years, Cheryl and her husband have always loved to travel the world and run marathons. But in October 2006, she was diagnosed with the often-immobilizing disease, MS and everything changed. The symptoms, including debilitating fatigue, muscle spasticity, neuropathic pain, and specifically, foot drop quickly halted her ability to run.
“I had not been able to run for almost a year due to drop foot that began 6 months after my diagnosis,” Cheryl recounts. “During a race, I started tripping and falling, and finished the run with bloody knees. Soon after, I learned the falling was due to foot drop.” This common symptoms of MS is the result of muscle paralysis or weakness and makes it difficult to lift the front part of the foot. Thus, it causes the foot to drag on the ground when walking, making it nearly impossible to run, much less run long distances. Yet, despite the advice of Cheryl’s neurologist to “lower her expectations,” she was determined to run again.
Running with an AFO
In February 2008, Cheryl met with an orthotist to get fit for an Ankle-Foot-Orthosis (AFO). She remembers the brace being awkward with its plastic shell, thick pads, and hinges at the ankle. But using it meant the difference between running again and being sidelined, so she forced herself to adapt. Just two months later, in April 2008, Cheryl completed the Boston Marathon. “I was very slow and had chafing, cuts and bruising on my leg,” she says, “but I was elated to be able to run again.”
For over ten years, Cheryl has worn an AFO, which has helped her complete many marathons. However, she still struggles with most of the brace options on the market. “I can go out on a 10-mile training run and have zero issues, but then have terrible chafing and bruising at a half marathon race,” says Cheryl. “It depends on things like the camber of the road and how it forces the AFO’s cuff to rub on the skin. Or how leaning forward on a steep uphill puts pressure on the cuff, which can ultimately bruise my shin. Despite the pain, I am so grateful I can keep doing the sport I love. It is the physical link to the days before I had MS.”
Experiencing the Thuasne Difference
This past May, Cheryl decided it was time to move on and try a new AFO model with different composite materials. She met with Damien Rivoire, Bracing and Support Manager, and Tim Cooney, CPO Clinical Specialist, from Thuasne USA who worked with her to customize the perfect AFO for her running needs.
“I could not disguise my excitement over the sleek Thuasne SpryStep AFO, she remembers. “Tim [Cooney] is a materials genius. The cuff is a [proprietary fabrication] composite that is light and flexible, like ropes used on ships, but 10 times stronger. It’s squeezable and molds to my calf when I strap it on. It’s useful because my leg can be wider when I’m retaining water, so the cuff cradles my calf muscle better than a rigid one. [Also], the carbon fiber [posterior lateral] strut is flat and is positioned behind my leg for optimal energy return. And finally, the footplate is more dynamic and I have spring in my step.”
The SpryStep Test
After 3 months of running with SpryStep, Cheryl has been able to test its performance on different terrains, from asphalt and the treadmill, to boardwalks and even, sand. She admits that with the durability of her new AFO, she no longer feels worried about stoppage, even when she is pounding the pavement during a race or running down a hill. Plus, since the SpryStep cuff is flexible, her shin experiences greater relief and she can tackle hills with a more natural stride. “Running up hills is still hard,” Cheryl admits, “but it is nice to feel my calf muscle working again. My calf had significantly atrophied over the years because it was strapped to a rigid AFO, so I am happy my muscle actually gets sore now!”
7 on 7 in 12
Despite having a disease that stops people from moving, Cheryl continues to charge forward. Last September, she set a record of becoming the first person with MS to run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 12 months. She stuck to her mantra of “do what you can and never give up,” and as a result, she has redefined expectations of what is possible.
In her latest endeavor, she has recruited runners from across the globe to make up the largest team of MS patients and supporters to participate in a race together. On October 21, 2018, Cheryl and eighty-two other teammates from the US, Belgium, Germany, England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Bahrain, Japan, Argentina, South Africa, and Antarctica will complete the Detroit marathon, half marathon, 5K, and relay. While some will run with Cheryl, others will run virtually from their hometowns all in a unified effort to raise awareness and support those affected by MS.
Cheryl Hile is no stranger to setting records and she doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Through boundless determination, plus the SpryStep AFO that has allowed her to keep running without the fear of falling, she has not only overcome adversity but also defied what many thought was impossible. With or without MS, she has proven to be an inspiration to all and the true picture of strength.
Click here to read more about Cheryl Hile’s story and support her efforts.