PORTLAND, Maine — On Sunday when most of us were recovering from a holiday hangover, Helene Neville was completing a 2,000 mile run.
Crossing the finish line at Portland’s Harbor View Memorial Park, the cancer survivor who lives in Las Vegas was met by a team of local firemen.
“They are on the front ends of life. They are trying to save lives,” said Neville of her welcome wagon.
And so is she.
The 53-year-old set off from Marathon, Florida, in May to complete the third leg of a quest to circle the perimeter of the United States on foot. Her transcontinental run has taken her from California to Florida, which took 2,520 miles and 93 days in 2010. Last year she ran from Vancouver, Canada, to Tijuana, Mexico, in 45 days.
Visiting hospitals, schools and fire departments, the running sprite takes her message of resilience to the streets. “In our world there are very few firsts, I want to inspire people to create a new first. Whatever your first is, go for it,” she said.
Neville ran an average of 25 miles a day and missed only two in her 68-day ultra marathon. She even ran up Route 1 from New Hampshire during Hurricane Arthur.
“It’s not something that’s impossible. I’m not different than anyone else,” said the lifelong nurse while on her way home from Maine Tuesday.
But surely she is.
Neville started running marathons after a cancer scare in the 1990s. After three brain surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, she decided not to take life and health for granted.
She chose to visit teachers and doctors and firemen across the nation because “they are servants of life. They give back. Like nurses, police officers and parents, it’s about giving and never giving up.”
So why did she run through heat and hurricanes on her own? Arranging for volunteers to follow in her car, couchsurfing from state to state?
“I just wanted to stop and thank them.”
Coming through Maine on Saturday and Sunday, she visited the Scarborough Fire Department and ended up in Portland where uniformed firefighters greeted her.
“It was really awesome. It was a team effort,” she said. “They were recognizing me for recognizing them.”
Without missing a beat Neville is already planning her next run. She will start in New Brunswick next year, traverse Northern Maine and end in Washington. When she clears all borders next year, she will set a world record.
“I’m trying to inspire people to action,” she said. “It is not about winning awards. If I can do this, imagine what you can do?”