I am … a Survivor.
By Robert “Bam, Bam” Martinez
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a father, husband, business owner and an avid dog lover. My three fur babies named Dallas an Australian Shepard, Klondike a Husky, and Olly a three-year-old Husky we recently rescued.
I have always been a fitness enthusiast from a very young age. I started at the Albuquerque Boys & Girls Club as a basketball player and a Little League baseball player. I also played football for Highland High School and went on to College. I made the move to San Diego California in 1995 where I discovered Triathlon competitions, a multisport event that includes swimming, cycling and running.
I am also a Stroke Survivor. The trauma of the stroke has shaped my life in ways I was not prepared for. After a stroke the life you once had is changed forever and the journey to create a new way of living has influenced every aspect of my life. This has strengthened and propelled my journey of fitness, nutrition and a positive lifestyle. In 2000 I was ready to run The Los Angeles Marathon which was my first full marathon run after the stroke. To date I have competed in over a dozen running competitions improving my time with each race.
In June of 2006 my wife, Jennifer and I moved to Dallas Fort Worth and bought our first home. Jennifer and I became members of 9Round 30Min. Kickbox Fitness and students of KRAV MAGA, disciplined in a combination of techniques sourced from Boxing and Muay Thai, along with realistic fight training.
I have worked in the Finance and Mortgage Servicing industry for over twenty-years until May of 2018 when I decided to leave the corporate world to become an Owner and Operator at 9Round 30 Min. Fitness Kickbox Fitness studio in Coppell Texas.
Tell us about your journey from having a stroke to your recovery?
It was June of 1998; I started dating a girl named Jennifer. She had no idea at the time we would embark on a journey, and less than four months later on September 18, 1998, I had a Stroke and the journey began.
While at work on September 18, 1998, at the age of 33, my life was suddenly changed. The morning started off like any other and I arrived at work in the early morning. At first, I started to feel dizzy, then I couldn’t stop sweating, and I felt like I was burning up on the inside. I was a healthy man. Ate clean, ran, swam, rode a bike and lifted weights regularly. My first thought was I had a cold or flu. I remember tuning my head to see who was walking behind me and I heard a “pop” in my neck – the same sound that is common while stretching or adjusting. I quickly found out this was not a normal “pop”. The sound I heard in my neck was a dissection of the artery in my neck. I was diagnosed with Wallenberg Syndrome. The inner lining of the artery on the right side of my neck dissected. It was told to me that the tare blocked blood flow to my brain.
After I heard my neck pop not only was I having problems with my body temperature, but I was also having difficulty walking and maintaining balance. My girlfriend Jennifer (and co-worker) suggested I go home and rest. I somehow managed to drive myself home.
I was home asleep in bed by 10 AM and I woke up to Jennifer shaking me to wake up (to my surprise, I thought it was 5 PM not 2 hours later that same morning). Jennifer later told me that she had a feeling something was really wrong and asked to go home for the day as well, soon after I did. When Jennifer woke me, we quickly noticed I was dizzy, unable to walk, and had Nystagmus of the eyes, which is rapid eye movements. I also had paralysis and numbness on the right side of my face and the left side of my body. Everything seemed tilted or off balance and felt like I was on a carnival ride.
Jennifer drove me to the hospital and yes, we should have called an ambulance however, the ER was not far from my residence. Jennifer ran into the ER, grabbed wheelchair, and wheeled me from the car to the Emergency Room. We were told it was going to be a lengthy wait. Luckily a nurse came by and asked me what was wrong with me. I slurred “I do not know”, he asked me to open my eyes and saw that my eyes were rapidly moving back and forth – a sign of brain trauma. I was immediately wheeled into the ER with half a dozen doctors and nurses franticly getting me into a cold room to address the traumatic symptom the nurse discovered in the waiting room.
A few hours later I was diagnosed with a stroke. I was told by three doctors that I would never be able to walk again without assistance, much less run. They told me I would have long-term neurological problems and that the paralysis may be permanent.
The following day I had a high-grade fever of 105 and my doctors were not sure if I would make it through the night. I remember having fans and icepacks all over my body. Luckily the fever subsided and I was later moved the San Diego Rehabilitation Institute to begin months of physical, occupational, and speech therapy. I had to relearn the functions we all take for granted. It was a very humbling and terrifying moment to think that my short time on this earth was changed forever.
What would you say was the hardest part of your recovery?
The hardest part of the recovery was the unknown. Will I be able to walk again? Will my blurred vision come back? How will I take care of myself? Will I be spending the rest of my life in a rehabilitation facility? Will I die from this? Sometimes people with Wallenberg syndrome experience paralysis or numbness on one side of the body. Other symptoms include: nausea, hiccups, rapid eye movements (nystagmus), a decrease in sweating, problems with body temperature sensation, dizziness, difficulty walking, and difficulty maintaining balance. I had all the symptoms.
The first five days after the stoke I was bed ridden because of the paralysis. The doctor was worried about muscle apathy. I also had a case of the hic-ups. I was having on average of twenty hic-ups every minute for five days. It was blessed on the 5th day; my Guardian Angel helped me get rid of the hic-ups. Yes, I met my real Guardian Angel that day however, that’s another story.
A difficult part of my recovery was seeing correctly. The Nystagmus (rapid eye movement) was debilitating. I kept my eyes closed most of the time. To this day I prefer to listen to TV instead of watching it. Once I was able to maintain some vision stability, I was able to work with the physical and occupational therapists. They invited me to work with them to create a rehabilitation plan and set goals on recovery. I wrote my three goals and posted them so I could see them every day. The three goals were as follows:
Goal 1 – Regain vision
Goal 2 – Walk
Goal 3 – Run
I figured once these goals were achieved everything else would follow. I was determined not to be a victim but rather a survivor and I knew the only way to achieve my goals would be with a lot of hard work, dedication and the will to survive. I maintain that lesson with regards to every aspect of my life.
Who were some of your biggest supporters through your journey?
There were many difficult days, but with the help of the San Diego Rehabilitation Institute, my girlfriend (now my wife) Jennifer, who spent every single day with me in the hospital until I was released and then moved in with me once I was able to leave the rehabilitation facility to help care for me long term. My other supporters were my family and especially, my brother Roger, who moved to the San Diego, my mom flew into San Diego when my rehabilitation started. Once I saw her, I knew everything would be ok and of course my faith. Without my faith the challenges would have been overwhelming. With their help I fought and worked hard to win my body back. It’s a fight that never ends and to this day I continue to work hard to insure I’m at my optimal health.
What would you say to other people who may have had a similar experience?
My motto is “Fitness isn’t a seasonal hobby. Fitness is a lifestyle”. This also applies to recovery. The bottom line is you have to be motivated to recover. Many people talk about the importance of determination, perseverance, and patience in both physical and mental aspects of recovery. On the physical side, keeping up with physical therapy and doing exercises are essential to recover. At the same time, it is important to recognize personal limitations by balancing activity and exercises. On the mental side, positive thinking, and goal setting were very helpful for my recovery. Everyone will go through this differently however you have to want to do it and if you are in the right mind space YOU WILL DO IT!
When you look at yourself today, what goes through your mind?
I feel that I’m truly blessed. My stroke could have taken me down a road with no recovery. I cherish every moment that I’m given and attempt to be the best I can be for myself and my family. I am one of the lucky few stroke survivors who have recovered most of their functions. I believe that the fact that I was young, fit and healthy before the stoke made it a lot easier for me to recover.
When I’m on a run, bike ride, in KRAV MAGA class, or at a 9round studio I am thankful I can punch, kick, ride, and run.
Looking back, I wish there was a 9Round type therapy during my recovery – seeing how 9Round combines a total body, kickboxing circuit workout I would see how my recovery would have been even faster.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I’m an avid runner and enjoy my time on the road. Most days you’ll find me running in Lewisville Texas (suburb of Dallas): a 53-year-old running past pedestrians and parked cars. I also enjoy attending a 9Round 30Min session or participating in a martial arts class with my training partner and wife, Jennifer.
I also spend my free time at the dog park with our three dogs running from one end to another. I’m truly blessed to have a family who understands the importance of exercise, self-discipline and the ability to enjoy the recovery periods.
What’s your favorite way to work out?
Any High Intensity Training (HIT) like 9Round 30Min Kickbox fitness.
Whether you are a triathlete, runner, cyclist, or another endurance athlete you need to guide and monitor your training by Lactate threshold and VO2 Max.
Lactate threshold intervals are an essential and time-efficient way to build sustainable power. interval training workouts in which you alternate periods of high-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery periods.
As you increase your effort when you exercise, the amount of oxygen you consume to produce energy (and the rate at which you exhale carbon dioxide) increases. However, there is a maximum level of oxygen consumption, beyond which increases in exercise intensity don’t lead to further increases in oxygen consumption. This level of oxygen consumption is called the VO2 max. (The initials simply stand for volume of oxygen).
I always include Interval training in running, cycling and swimming in my personal workout programs. Once of my favorite bike training programs is the Chris Carmicle Training Systems (CTS) Time Trial DVD/Video is a 60-minute workout that will help develop cycling specific strength, improve steady state lactate threshold power, and enhance your ability to respond to cadence changes during a time trail.
9Round provides a triple threat approach to fitness with killer workouts, heart rate technology, and nutritional guidance to ensure members get the most of their workouts and achieve lasting results. The workout consists of nine, three-minute stations that include cardio, weight training, core exercises, plus kicks and punches. This type of High Intensity Training (HIT) is great in increasing and maintaining VO2 Max. You will be able to sustain power for a longer period of time no matter what you do in life. Like play with you kids or grandkids, work in the yard or play with your dog, not to mention any other workout activity.
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
Rocky – The classic tale of a small-time Philadelphia boxer who is given the chance of a life-time to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world.
Rocky stands tall and has come to represent a tradition of inspiration. Once you hear songs like Eye of the Tiger you push yourself a little harder – Rocky style!
What are some things that make you laugh?
Two husky’s and an Australian Sheppard. All dogs really. With all their goofy looks and antics, it’s no wonder we cherish our dogs as our best friends. Dogs make me laugh when they’re unpredictable and silly. They entertain me with their playful nature and creative problem-solving skills. But I think one of the biggest reasons that dogs make me laugh is their human-like behaviors and expressions. Even though they don’t share most of our human emotions, sometimes they seem to act like young children. Maybe that’s why we even find it humorous when they’re a little mischievous.
Don’t feel bad for laughing at your dog. They might just be laughing at you, too. Learn to laugh with them. Give it a try!
What would be your dream vacation?
With wide, sandy beaches, velvety green mountains and year-round dreamy weather. It’s easy to see how Hawaii earned a reputation as a dream vacation spot, Ka’anapali and Kapalua, located on Maui’s West shore, is home to some of the best beaches I have ever seen. Whether you want to go out on a whale-watching boat tour, try some snorkeling or just want to relax on the beach, this is the is the place to do it. Nearby in Lahaina you will find numerous shops and restaurants. You cannot get a much better dream vacation than Maui Hawaii.
What’s an outdoor activity you haven’t you, but would like to?
I want to do a Trail Run in the near future. I imagine running a 5 to 50-mile challenging course through scenic canyons and stunning overlooks.
The other activity I want to do is cross country skiing, more so a Biathlon which combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. For each shooting round, the biathlete must control their breathing in order to hit five targets on the exhale. These Cross-country ski marathoners are the fittest athletes in the world in my opinion.
Where do you hope to see yourself in the next five years?
Five-years from now the plan is to have multiple 9Round studios in the Dallas Fort-worth area. My plan for now is to make the 9Round Coppell a success and help make that community stronger in just 30 minutes.
I want to continue my fitness journey not only for me but also for other stroke survivors who have shared a similar experience, and I especially want to continue my journey for those stroke survivors who are not able to run, punch or kick. I realize I am extremely lucky, but I feel awareness needs to increase among people my age and younger regarding stroke and stroke prevention.
I look forward to use the lessons of my fitness journey to assist 9Round Coppell members on continuously striving for a healthier life.