Helene Neville has accomplished many things in her life. She’s a nurse, grandmother, author, health activist and transcontinental marathon runner. She’s also a four-time cancer survivor.
Helene was nearly 40-years-old the first time she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After beating the odds her doctor had given her, an already health conscious and fit Helene decided to take her fitness to the next level: she started running marathons. Since becoming a marathon runner, the Philadelphia native has participated in everything from the world-renowned Boston Marathon to international competitions in cities like London, but none of these challenging events compare to the journey she started in 2010.
After her third battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Helene wanted to celebrate her health in a big way. Eager to lace up her running shoes, the avid marathoner decided to set her own course, and this time it would take her across the United States. On May 1, 2010, Helene departed from Ocean Beach, California on what would become a 93-day, 2,520-mile trek across the country. What she didn’t know was that this one run would inspire a five-year journey across 37 states and three countries.
For the past five years, Helene has been running her way around the country, but on Saturday, September 5, Helen’s grueling 9,715-mile race around the United States will conclude when she crosses her finish line in Ocean Shores. At age 54, Helene will be the first grandmother to travel the perimeter of the country by foot. “I never thought I would be running the entire perimeter,” says Helene. “But anything is possible if there’s action behind it.”
Helene says her journey hasn’t been easy. “I’ve prepared for the physical endurance part,” she says. “It’s the mental part that’s hard. You just have to keep coaching yourself.” Physically fit, running isn’t a challenge for Helene. But it’s the challenges that keep her going in the first place.
During the first leg of her run in 2010, Helene continued to run even after her doctors were concerned that her cancer might be back. It was. And this time, it was in the form of T-Cell lymphoma. However, Helene wasn’t about to quit in the middle of her journey, so she continued on until she reached her finish line in Florida.
Helene started round four of her cancer treatment in 2010. After treatment finished, she went right back to training in preparation for her run around the country. “I liked it so much that I just wanted to keep going,” she says.
After rebuilding her strength, Helene hit the road again, this time traveling north to south from Vancouver, B.C. to Tijuana, Mexico. The journey was 1,560 miles, and she averaged 37 miles per day.
The following year, in 2014, Helene completed another border-to-border run. Helene started this leg of her trip in Florida with the Seven Mile Bridge Marathon and just kept running until she arrived in Portland, Maine. The 2,000-mile trek took her 67 days.
Helene began the last leg of her journey earlier this spring in St. Stephen, New Brunswick in Canada. Since May 1, Helene has been running across the northern United States, eager to cross her final finish line in Ocean Shores.
Throughout her travels across the country, Helene’s story has inspired people in communities of all kinds. Helene stops and gives motivational talks when she can, but it’s the everyday interactions she shares with people she meets that are most meaningful to her. Whether stopping for a photo on one of the highways of America or getting to know a kind community member over a hot meal, Helene says her journey has been a testament to how much good there is in the world.
As Helene nears the end of her multi-year health journey, she hopes her story inspires others to get healthy and seize the day. “The health of the nation is only as strong as the health of our citizens,” Helene says. “Nothing else is going to matter if we’re not healthy to experience it. Health is our greatest asset and impossible is merely a phrase that offers an excuse. Don’t save the best for last.”
Before Helene crosses her final finish line in Ocean Shores on Saturday, September 5, she will be addressing the Grays Harbor community during an inspirational presentation at Aberdeen High School on Wednesday, September 2 at 6:30 p.m. The event, which is sponsored by Grays Harbor Community Hospital, will be an opportunity for the community to learn more about Helene’s battle with cancer, her fitness journey, and her inspiring outlook on life.
You can learn more about Helene Neville — the One on the Run — on her website. For more information about her event on September 2, contact Grays Harbor Community Hospital by phone at 360-537-5436.