Running helped save my life
At the age of 34 I was an extremely fit and active person doing adventure races and really enjoying my running until my life changed forever.
One afternoon I was bringing in the wheelie bin when it fell out of my hand. I picked it up again to have it only fall out for a second time. I then began to feel light headed, so I grabbed the bin with my other hand and headed inside the house. I knew the feeling I was experiencing was not normal so I phoned my girlfriend (now wife) Vanessa, who was luckily only a few minutes away and just kept repeating that I needed help. As I was speaking to Vanessa the phone fell out of my hand and she arrived home to find me bent over not being able to use my right side and not being able to talk to her to explain what was happening. I knew the words I needed to say but it was coming out all jumbled and the symptoms were getting worse by the second.
Vanessa diagnosed me as having a possible stroke and called the ambulance straight away which saved my life. She tried to keep me conscious as I deteriorated rapidly and started saying my goodbyes to her. I told her I loved her and felt a calmness, as if ready to die. The ambo’s arrived shortly after and immediately administered oxygen which thinned my blood and kept me alive.
I had had a major stroke at the age of 34 and lived to tell the tale. It was now time to start the rehabilitation. I had minimal use of my right hand and was suffering from Dysphasia (inability to put words together to make meaning). I knew what I wanted to say and knew the words in my head but I couldn’t get the correct words out.
Running had always been a passion of mine from a young age. From the age of six I attended little athletics and continued running from then on. I love the outdoors and the feeling I get after running. I wanted that back again.
So then the rehab commenced. It started slowly with exercises such as picking up small wooden sticks with my right hand and trying to balance on my right foot. I then began the journey of regaining my strength and confidence by walking down the driveway (10 meters) and then down the street to the nearby river. Once I reached the river with our Border Collie by my side, I did a lot of walking in the water strengthening my legs.
The time then came to get back into my running. I returned to the fitness class at the local surf club which I regularly attended before my stroke. To put it in perspective, the people I ran with at the club were at varying fitness levels ranging from Olympic Athletes to beginners. Before my stroke I was up the front of the group no problem to only find that after my stroke I struggled with every step and regularly found myself at the back of the pack at least a few kilometres behind everyone else. It was amazing how much fitness I had lost, however I looked at this as a challenge that I could conquer and it gave me goal to strive to.
I set my first goal to run and complete the Perth City to Surf 12km race, which was at the time only 16 weeks away. I signed up with a running coach here in Perth, who devised me, a running programme. He looked me in the eye and told me that he was going to get me up to running the half marathon. At first I thought he had mixed me up with the wrong person, however he must have been a good salesman as that’s what I signed up for. To put even more pressure on me, Channel Nine (National TV station) decided they would follow my journey and follow me in the race which would be telecast later that day.
My coach told me, that if I stick to the plan I should run a 90 minute half marathon, which again I thought was crazy. I stuck religiously to his programme and did everything he told me to do and I progressively got stronger and stronger over the months. I finished the half in 92 minutes. I think the camera crew slowed me down by two minutes. (Tongue in cheek). I was so happy to firstly finish the race and secondly have faith in my body that I could push it again. This race was a major turning point in my recovery.
I still struggle every day to trust my body 100% and don’t know if I ever will regain that trust fully, but one thing I know for sure is that I would not be on this planet today if I was not healthy in the body and mind. Running gives me both of these. It makes me feel alive. At the start of my rehab, 1km felt like a marathon but you need to start somewhere and it doesn’t matter how small just do something. The doctors have all said the reason I have made such a great recovery was because I was healthy, strong and fit when I had the stroke. Running is still a major part of my life; not only for the fitness but for the friendships I have developed with some wonderful people along the way. The amazing thing about running is that everyone has their own story as to why they run and we all respect that no matter what. My passion for running has now extended to my little six year old son, Ajay who regularly asks to come running with me, which I love.
Rob Goyen Instagram @robgoyen