Nurse, Grandmother, Cancer-Survivor Runs to Inspire Others to ‘Rethink the Impossible’

Cancer-survivor, Helene Neville, completed her most ambitious goal yet: a run around the perimeter of the United States.Helene Neville started running after a cancer scare in the mid-1990s. And she hasn't stopped since. After surviving three brain surgeries (the third, at Mayo Clinic), chemotherapy and radiation, Helene decided to push her body in another way: by running a marathon. She's run more than 20 since then. And in 2010, she set out to achieve her most ambitious goal yet: a run around the perimeter of the United States. She chronicled her adventures online and in books she wrote after the first three legs of the journey, which she completed in September 2015.

"I run to help people rethink the impossible," says Helene, who balanced running at least 25 miles a day with speaking to community groups along her route, including patients and staff at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. "This whole run isn't to realize some dream I had," Helene told the Mankato Free Press while passing through Minnesota in July. "It's to inspire others to realize theirs."

She has another reason for running, too. "I went for a run to meet America," she tells us, adding that "there's so much more good out there than bad." (We won't disagree.) And she should know, having depended on the kindness of strangers during her time on the road. Many nights, she'd "couch surf," staying with people who offered up a meal and a place to sleep. Other nights, she'd sleep in her red, white and blue Isuzu Trooper. She kept her gear in the car, which followed her along the route thanks to friends she made along the way. "I trust people," she explains. "If you put out love and compassion, embracing the human spirit, you'll get that back."

One of Helene's favorite memories from the road involves the love and compassion she received from a group of runners from Team R.E.D. out of Byron, Minnesota. Helene was running along Highway 14, when she spotted a group in red shirts coming toward her. She told KAAL-TV that the sight "almost made her cry." Her spirits were lagging that day, she says, and the company of other runners after so many solo miles was just what she needed. The runners "showed up to hold me up," and Helene says she "will never forget that."

Helene will share her story on Saturday, Feb. 6, when she'll be the keynote speaker at the Rochester Track Club annual banquet. And you can follow her continuing adventures on Facebook. This Friday she'll embark on a 135-mile run up and down the Las Vegas strip. She'll be running nonstop, and expects to be on her feet for around 40 hours. We'll be there (virtually) to cheer her on.

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