Gilbert resident Rick Steele

Gilbert resident Rick Steele completed the marathon portion of the Ironman Triathlon. Nancy Foote adopted running after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and has won a slew of medals.

When Rick Steele toes the starting line next Sunday in the annual Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in downtown Phoenix, he won’t be going for a personal best.

Instead, the Gilbert man is using the 26.2-mile race as a training run for his biggest feat to date – run seven marathons in seven days in seven continents.

“Crazy right?” said Steele, an endurance athlete who completed 12 Ironman triathlons to date. 

“Last year my friend done it and told me about it and immediately when she described it, I was interested,” he said. “It sounded like something so impossible that it interested me the minute I heard it.”

The 2020 World Marathon Challenge kicks off Feb. 6 within the Antarctic Circle on mainland Antarctica.

 From there, charter planes will take Steele and 19 other competitors to Cape Town, Africa; Perth, Australia; Dubai in Asia; Madrid in Europe; Fortaleza  in South America and finally to Miami in North America on Feb. 12. 

Since the event’s inception in 2015, 112 runners from around the world have completed the challenge.

“We’ll live on the plane,” said Steele, founder and CMO of SelectBlinds.com. “It’s not a very glamorous lifestyle for seven days. You get in, get off your feet, refuel, rehydrate and give your body as much time to recover as possible to get up and do it again the next day.”

Participants run 183 miles over the seven-day period and spend about 68 hours in the air, according to the event website.

When Steele trained for the Ironman he would put in 200 miles a week of running, biking and swimming. 

For the February marathons, he’s been logging 100 miles a week in preparation for the challenge.  

“I’m running on tired legs constantly to know what it feels like,” he said.

Besides the Ironman, Steele has competed in the Spartan World Championships and the World’s Toughest Mudder events. 

“I’ve done training with the Navy Seals,” Steele said. “And I did the 53 hours crucible Kokoro.”

The endurance event Kokoro touts itself as the world’s premier training event for forging mental toughness.

“I’ve done a lot in the last few years to prepare myself for those times you want to quit,” he said.

Steele said he was athletic as a kid but as he grew into adulthood with work and a family to contend with, he became slack.

“In the last six or seven years I’ve ramped up my fitness again to a competitive level for my age group,” the 47-year-old said. “I’m a challenge-based guy, in my business and my family. I like to add big challenges that force me to train.”

The World Marathon Challenge isn’t just for bragging rights though. Steele also is raising money for two charities – Soles for Souls, a charity that gives shoes to underprivileged kids and Shriners Hospitals for Children.

For Sunday’s Rock ‘n Roll Marathon, Steele is looking to complete it in under four hours. His marathon personal record is 3 hours and 30 minutes.

“On game day, my goal is to finish all the marathons under four hours each,” he said. 

Nancy Foote is literally running for her life.

The 60-year-old Gilbert woman was diagnosed in 2016 with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nervous system disorder with no cure.

“My neurologist said the best thing for Parkinson’s is sweat,” said Foote, who’s participating in the Rock-n-Roll Marathon event next weekend. 

Exercise can boost in the brain the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps with motor coordination but drops when Parkinson’s kills the cells that produce it. Running also releases endorphins, another neurotransmitter.

Foote, who teaches conceptual physics to eighth-graders at Sossaman Middle School, took up the sport nine years ago when her mother died.

“When she had a stroke and she lingered very painfully for 15 months I asked my doctor what should I do to make sure it wasn’t me,” Foote recalled. “She said ‘take 60 pounds off you.’”

Foote said she didn’t want surgery or take medication to lose the weight. Instead, she changed her diet and started running.

She dropped the 60 pounds and kept it off.

Then came her Parkinson’s diagnosis on Dec. 19, 2016.

“It shocked me to the core,” said Foote, who looking back said there were signs two years prior.

“I had a weak right arm and would drop things and I had trouble brushing my teeth and my handwriting was getting smaller and smaller,” she said. “I asked my doctor about it and she was not overly concerned.”

It wasn’t until Foote was giving a science presentation at a conference in Texas in November and was dropping things that she finally went to see a neurologist.

“My neurologist sent me for a brain test and it came back and he said to me ‘everybody who’s had Parkinson’s has this anomaly but you can have this anomaly and not have Parkinson’s. I’m diagnosing you with Parkinson’s.’

“I said, ‘what? I’m 57.’ So, I was shocked beyond belief.”

During Foote’s annual mammogram around Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2017, cancer was found in her right breast. It was a rare form that would have gone undetected longer had she not had a 3D mammogram. About two months later, another type of cancer was found in Foote’s left breast. 

She underwent segmental mastectomy and 60 doses of radiation.

“That was one, two, three,” she said of the life-changing events.

Foote is cancer-free for the moment, though she added, “My doctor told me it’s a chronic illness and that I will likely see cancer again.” 

“It’s depressing, it is worrisome and it’s terrifying,” Foote said.

Foote, who has amassed a collection of finisher medals from races ranging from half marathons to 5Ks, said she doesn’t like to run.

“I don’t like the training part because that’s hard,” she said. “But I do like having time for myself. I enjoy the solitude, I enjoy the me-time but the actual running itself, I’m not a big fan.”

This is Foote’s sixth year for the Rock-n-Roll Marathon. She will be participating in the 5K on Saturday and the 10K on Sunday, and she will be speed-walking the races. 

“I use to do half marathons all the time,” she said. “But I can’t seem to get enough energy. But you still get the endorphin rush and hopefully that is helping with the Parkinson’s.” 

Her husband, Bruce Foote, who can’t run because of two bad knees, will be her cheerleader. He also is the one who coordinates all her races, – registering her, booking flights and hotel rooms when needed.

“I love that they have great bling and secondly every year I go I see someone else I know out running,” Foote said. “One year it was a student I had eight years before. He ran with me for a while.”

Foote said it amazes her that students she taught decades ago and bump into at the races and still remember her.

The 32-year-veteran teacher’s impact on her students garnered her recognition from the Fiesta Bowl, which selected her for the “My School Hero of the Year “award. Part of the award includes an all-expense paid trip Jan. 13, to the College Football National Championship game in New Orleans.

Despite her health challenges, Foote remained upbeat both at home and in the classroom.

“You and I are not guaranteed tomorrow, we are not guaranteed the next minute,” she said. “When I get up, I have a decision to make. I can decide I can be a crabby old lady with Parkinson’s or a happy person with Parkinson’s but I will have Parkinson’s one way or the other and the threat of cancer.

“I influence 160 kids every day and moods are contagious. Am I going to give joy and excitement or be a miserable human being and share it with them? When they leave my room I want them to be full of joy because life is too short.”