This podcast was created and is hosted by Paul Burns, a young survivor of stroke. This podcast series is part of Stroke Foundation’s Young Stroke Project.

Smashing it after stroke

Episode 2, 27 April 2022 (Duration: 41:38)

Host: Paul Burns

Rob Goyen is an ambitious endurance athlete who is always chasing the next achievement. Between running successful businesses in Asia or competing in adventure races, Rob loves pushing himself. We find out what drives him to succeed and what motivated him to compete in 250km Ultramarathon on the 10th anniversary of his stroke.


Announcer: This podcast was created and is hosted by a young survivor of stroke. This podcast series is part of Stroke Foundation's Young Stroke project. Find out more by visiting

Rob: Have you got like the proper spicy cough, or just a ….                        

Paul: Nah, not the proper spicy, thank goodness. So, which makes, I guess, makes it far worse. It means I've got man flu, which is far more deadly.                

Paul: Hi there. My name is Paul Burns. I'm a young stroke survivor, and I am on a mission to talk to people that have suffered strokes and other traumas and have gone on to absolutely smash it in their chosen field. We'll chat about how they approach life, manage their shortcomings and get a few tips and tricks along the way. Today I chat with Rob Goyen.                      

Rob has always chased his goals hard. However, if there's one thing that Rob’s done to give you an idea of the kind of person he is, it's the 250km ultramarathon that he ran on the 10th anniversary of his stroke. We talk careers, motivation, mindset, and why he chose to undertake such a race after dealing with his injury.                    

So please enjoy this chat I had with Rob.

Paul: Thanks so much for your time, Rob. I really appreciate it.                

Rob: Easy. No problem at all.                  

Paul: No worries. Well, I guess I want to start off with the most obvious question that stuck out to me. Was how did you get to a place on your 10 year stroke anniversary that you decided to run a 250km ultramarathon? Because I dare say there's probably a lot of people out there that can’t conceive of running an ultramarathon and not having the kind of injuries that you're carrying.

How did how did you get there?              

Rob: Yeah, I suppose I've got to go back to, I suppose, pre pre-stroke where I was, you know, I was a fit sort of mid 30 year old and, and, you know, I see myself sort of above average in, in fitness level. And I suppose my goal after I had my stroke was to try and get back to where I wanted to be.

But then it became more than that. What it became was, can I trust my body again?

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: Which became how far can I push my body to trust it again? And I found the more I pushed it, the more I started believing my body, you know, was okay. I wouldn't have another stroke again.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: And then it became, I suppose, an obsessive thing because I started literally walking down the driveway after my stroke.                    

And then it just got more and more and more and more from there. And nd then that led me to, yeah, the 250 kilometers.

Paul: Goodness. I mean, I think you undersold it a little bit. Yeah. Above average fitness. I think anyone that's listening to this will agree that if you run a 250km, I think you're a little further than above average mate, but. So how did you get to a point where, you know, you're testing yourself there, there must be a real fine line between how far do I push myself versus am I going too far?

I mean, in my experience, all the doctors and everything say, you know, pace yourself, pace yourself, pace yourself. How do you ride that line?                

Rob: That is a question that I suppose myself and my wife agree and disagree with a lot. Because she thinks it's too far, the way I'm pushing. She … it’s always a concern for her. She's kind of like, you know, you've almost died once. Why do you want to … why do you want to do it again?                        

And I find, sort of, me pushing myself is me being alive again and me saying, okay, well, my body is okay. It's kind of a weird thing. I'm like, okay, if I survive that, I'm okay. You know, like, it's, the stroke’s not going to happen again. And then you go all the way, you know, through that.      

And, you know, I had, after my stroke, had to have a heart operation from there of course, when I first started coming back, exercising … my cardiologist, I had to, yeah, I got approval from him to start running again. So he sort of said, yep, your heart's right. Everything's good. You know, so I started sort of working with doctors at that stage and then, then I just went out on my own.

Paul: Did they put any limits on you? Did they say do this, don't do this, push this far, don't push this far? Or was it really a trial and error thing?              

Rob: Yeah, at the start it was, you know, don't do anything too heavy for a certain amount of time. And I was on blood pressure tablets from there. So I couldn't lift my heart right up to a certain level anyway. But when I when I came off them, then it was, then it was kind of a go for it.                          

And then I just got the green light I think after about, maybe it was 18 months after my stroke somewhere around then. And just to, yeah, everything's fine. Rip into it.                    

Paul: Did you ever push it? Did you give it too much of a nudge on it at any point? Or did you find it was a really gradual thing?                      

Rob: If we look at that 250km, I had to go after about 80, maybe a 100. Yeah, just over about 80km. I ended up on a drip for, well, I took 6 litres of fluid.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: I'm in hospital. I got taken to hospital and then, then straight from hospital I got dropped back to where I got taken off the road and, continued it from there.            

So that was, that was sort of pushing it to. My hearing started to go, my vision started to go, you know, it was a really hot day. And I got the fluids and just got back up, back on the road.              

Paul: Was there any point that you sort of went, maybe this isn't a great idea. Or ..          

Rob: Never.                    

Paul: Never, ever you would just say, I'm doing it.                          

Rob: Yeah, I'm doing it. Yeah, for sure my wife and I had a few heated discussions. The nurse and the nurse and the doctors in the hospital at the time said, you know, do not go back, back on the road. And, and I was like, yeah yeah, no problem. Then as soon as I got back out the hospital doors I said to my wife drop me back on the road. Let's go.

Paul: Goodness. Wow. So I guess I'd like to sort of round back to pre-stroke. What was, you sort of alluded to, what was your life sort of like before? Pre-stroke. I dare say, you mentioned that you were obviously pretty fit. I mean, what were the things that you were doing preinjury?                                                    

Rob: Yeah, I had a pretty active life. I was, you know, I had just spent 11 years working out of, based in Hong Kong and China. I was traveling sort of seven months a year working. I was exercising a lot. I was, you know, out having good having a good time as well at that age. And doing everything. And it was, you know, it was all I suppose it was a pretty, it was an exciting life, you know, traveling, exercising, you know, spending lots of time in Europe, lots of time in the US and things like that.          

So I had a, I suppose, above average life in regards to work and exercise.              

Paul: Because you're in the fitness industry, aren't you? With, you represent certain brands.

Rob: Correct. Yeah, yeah, yeah. In the outdoor industry.              

Paul: So did the, did the fitness come first or was it, you know, the career side of things that led to the fitness? Which drove which one?                  

Rob: Now, the fitness was always, I suppose first I, you know, I always loved it as a kid. I suppose like a lot of Australian kids being outside and doing different things and running was always something I did as a junior, you know little athletics and all those, all those type of things. And then I suppose it went a little bit wayward in my late teens and early twenties when, you know, I was out chasing girls and having a good time.

Paul: Sure.

Rob: And drinking and doing all that sort of stuff, and then and then it sort of came back in the, I suppose the, the late twenties. I found the love for it again.                

Paul: So what sort of really drives you to that side of fitness? I mean, look, I think there's a lot of people out there that, you know, happy to hit the gym 2 or 3 times a week to keep themselves decent. You know, they might pursue hobbies, boxing, cricket, footy, all that kind of stuff.

And then there's some of the things that you've spoken about in the past, like, you know, martial arts and you're running and, you know, adventure sports.              

I mean that is a whole different level. You know, what motivates you to. Well, what motivated you then to really take on those massive challenges?                            

Rob: I suppose for me, l’m a sort of all in type of person. Whatever I do, it's full on. Whether it's in business or whether it's in, in exercise. And that's just, and that's just my personality in general. If I'm going to do something, I'm going to do.

Paul: Go hard or go home.

Rob: Go hard. It's sort of like, you talked about martial arts. When I did that, it was, you know, they were like, okay, we'll come and have a have a try out, I remember when I was young. And you know, then you can see if you want to buy your uniform or whatever. And I said, nah, buy the uniform day one. If we're doing it, we're doing it, you know. And I sort of commit to that.              

It's all in.                          

Paul: When you commit to something like that, okay, you pick martial arts as an example. It's like, yeah, okay, I’m all in. Do you go in your head, you know, I'm going to commit to this for a period of time. Do you go I'm committing to it indefinitely. And if you know the road changes somewhere along the way, then so be it.

I mean, when you say commitment, how do you, what does that mean to you?                                                    

Rob: So I've sort of, I suppose the way I look at it, I look at it like it's going to be forever. I just commit and go, okay, well, this is going to be forever. But then what happens is I hit a certain level and I go, okay, I now need another challenge. And I find that in my sort of business life and my sporting life. I kinda go, yep, I'm all in. Alright, I've hit that level. Okay, where do I go next?

Paul: So it's more of a level up thing.

Rob: Yeah.

Paul: Because I mean, I've started things in the past where it's like, yeah, I'm committing I'm all in. And then, you know, the wheels fall off or I lose interest. And then I guess a lot of people probably do this, too, you know, you sort of beat yourself up. Like, oh, yeah, I quit that. I guess I don't stick at things. And, you know, the self-doubt kicks in. But from what you're saying is you really just I'm going to the next level. I'm going to the next challenge. It's not really, you don't see that as that dropping off that commitment for that particular thing as a negative thing?                          

Rob: No, not at all. I think it's important for everyone to have some sort of goals and commitment. And I mean, you can move from there. I think it's when you're sitting there idle and you're not doing anything. You know, I grew up with, you know, my parents, oh they could write a list, you know, 2 foot long about things that I tried and went in. And, you know, from crazy things like drawing to, yeah, all bits, different bits and pieces and it was kind of like, okay, I'll do that. I'll give that a good go. Okay that's not for me and I'll move on from there. But I never sat idle doing nothing.                

Paul: Yeh. You always picked up something new. And, you know, if drawing wasn't the thing, okay, well, I'm going to go do this now. But that doesn't mean that's a bad thing that I've dropped drawing because I've moved on to this thing.    

Rob: Yeah. And feeling guilty about, about stopping. I mean, guilt is a wasted emotion, you know, it's not worth anything. So it's kind of like there's no point feeling guilty about it. Just get on and if that wasn't for you go and try something else.                      

Paul: So how did you, in your career, get to places like Asia and the US? I mean, so when you say you represent you know, some brands, that's quite a sales role, I understand.                        

Rob: Yeah. Yeah. So I suppose my passion, one of my big passions, is windsurfing. And so I started working with a company over in China that manufacture windsurfing products, a factory over there. And so I went over there to, they wanted to spread their product and distribute their product around the world. So they needed someone to do that.              

So I flew over, that is an interesting story. I flew over there with, I had $600 to my name, and I got a one way ticket to China. A friend, one of my best friends was a designer over there. Okay, might be a job. So I got a one way ticket, flew to China.                  

I met with the Chinese and they said, look, travel around. I want you to travel around the world for 6 months. You won't get paid but we’ll pay for everything for you.

Paul: Yep.

Rob: And then see if it's viable to sell this product. So I went and just had a really good time for 6 months travelling around the world with one of my best mates.                    

And then I got back to China and I still didn't have a ticket home because I had a one way ticket. My parents had to buy me a one way ticket home. And then I wrote a little business plan to say, yep, I reckon it's viable. And then from there they said, alright, let's do it.

And that sort of went on for 11 years.

Paul: I mean, that's a great story. Would you say that you know, no risk, no reward?                          

Rob: Absolutely. At that stage I was working for Coca-Cola on, I was kind of like, if I stick with this company, I know exactly where I'm going to be in 20 years. 30 years. 40 years. Yeah. And to me that was just, that was just boring. I like change and I like excitement and things like that. So I'm like, okay, so I quit that job.

And most people would have thought, you know, that's crazy to go off on a whim to, you know, maybe there might be a job. I mean, I could have got, I could have got to China and they just said, no, sorry.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: No, there's nothing. And I've quit this job, but I'm kind of like, I like the risk and, you know, I like the excitement of change.              

Paul: That probably applies a little bit to how you approached, I mean, the first thing that we chatted about with the, you know, the ultramarathon. Not really knowing how it was going to go, having people that, you know, saying maybe this isn't a good idea, but, you know, taking that risk to prove yourself.

Rob: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. 100%. I mean, an ultramarathon is like living a year and, you know, in a day or two days. I mean, all you've got to do, you've got to be problem solving the whole time. It’s kind of like, you will go out and you'll go okay I'm gonna run this distance.                

And in your mind, you’re kinda like, okay. You always think it's gonna be a perfect day out. But then, you know, your stomach might turn upside down or you might roll an ankle or you might, you know, this might happen or that might happen. I've been out and people have been bitten by snakes. I’ve been out and people rolled ankles.                

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: I've been, you know, all that sort of thing. You just got to, on the spot, you've got to make changes. And you've got to just work it out as you go. It's like life.                      

Paul: So how do you solve those problems when you're out in the middle of nowhere and you’ve blown? I mean, what can you do?

Rob: When you're out by yourself you take all the safety kits and, you know, snake bandages and you take, you know, enough water and you do all that sort of stuff. You know, I've been out mountain biking when, you know, my best friend went over the handlebars and he was convulsing on the ground. So we had to go and get a, flag down a car because we didn't have our phones.          

And then they had to ring the ambulance and then we had to get the ambulance in. And then we had, you know, so you just sort of work it out as you go.                        

Paul: So, I guess it's not just blind risk. There's a bit of calculated risk. There's an element of planning that goes into everything as well as, coupled with that whole taking of risk as well, right?      

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. And big runs like that run, that 250 km run you talk about. That is really planned out. We have my parents and my wife sort of every 10 or 15 km will be waiting for me up ahead, you know what I mean? They'll have all the food, the fluids. Yeah, whatever else you need that. Yeah. Through there.                  

And so that kind of things. Yeah, absolutely planned out.                                                        

Paul: Yeah. I guess I've got memories of a child in the Eighties of watching Cliff Young and his gumboots shuffling after it. You think that, I mean that dude’s just, he’s out there going after it, but you don't see that planning that goes on in the backend right?                        

Robs: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And he just didn't, that guy just didn't sleep. That’s why he won. I mean, he would just run past people, other people when they were sleeping. I mean, you know, he's a bit of an institution for ultrarunning isn’t he?                  

Paul: Did I read, if I remember correctly, the gumboot shuffle became a bit adopted by some ultra … is that right?

Rob: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Just because it's just you're using less energy and you're burning less calories and you're just shuffling along.                            

Paul: So, we talked a little bit about your pre-life, but I guess, you know, when you had your injury. You know, you've come from this massively active, you know, massive international career. And then something like this happens. What are some of the things that sort of played around your mind?

Rob: As, you know, it's a game changer. I mean, if I just go back to the day that I had my stroke, I remember losing my speech and losing my right side. And I remember it's a remarkable thing. I'm thinking that's the end, you know?

And I was like, I was so stressed. I mean, I reckon my heart level, I didn’t measure it, but it was up. The anxiety and the stress. But then I went to just this calm and nothing else. Nothing else mattered. And I remember saying to my wife, I love you and it's okay. I'm at peace. I'm ready to go. And just that.

Now people talk about, without getting too spiritual, this mindfulness and I reckon that's exactly what it is. Because nothing else mattered then.                    

Nothing like what your career or how many km you run. It was just me and survival.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: You know what I mean, And that peace was something that if I could get that back now without going through the stress before, of course. It was just, it was just the most, probably the most peaceful time of my life. And then obviously when that stuff happened, the ambos came in and then, you know, the rest was from there.                          

But that, just that calmness is just something that is just. It excites me just thinking about it now.

Paul: Wow. Did you know what was going on?                

Rob: Yeah. It was really weird because at 34 years old, I had never known. Of course, you hear about stroke.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: But I remember when I phoned my wife and I said to her, I think I'm having a stroke.

Paul: Yeah

Rob: You know. And then the phone fell out of my hand. But it was just weird that that came.

At the start, no, I didn't know what was going on. It was just all like everything went blurry and things like that.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: And no, no. But I knew my body was shutting down. 100% knew that it was shutting down.

Paul: Wow. I suppose you probably got more insight into the status of your own body running all those ultramarathons, you’d have to be pretty in touch with what's going on, I'd imagine. I mean, I because I had no idea what the hell was going on when I had my thing, so.                    

Rob: But were you … did you get? We’re you super stressed out when it was happening?

Paul: Yeah, well, not before. I mean, I didn't know what was happening. I was on my way to a work meeting, so I guess I was probably stressed. I was running my own business at the time. But yeah, when I was driving, I was actually driving to a new client meeting. A kick-off and yeah I got serious vertigo. And I literally didn't know what was happening.              

And they, they took me to a hospital who didn't know what was happening. And it wasn't sort of really obvious until after an MRI for me. So it was probably a bit of a different experience. So but yeah, I had no idea because I was a bit the same. I mean I was 42 when I had mine.                

Rob: Yeah yeah. Still young.                    

Paul: And, and it's like, yeah, I guess the same as, you know, most people. You've heard of strokes, but not in a million years did you ever think it was on the radar, you know, for someone of sort of our age group. So.

Rob: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul: But yeah, it sounds like you had some pretty good insight there though.              

Rob: Yeah, yeah. It's was pretty remarkable that you kind of just knew you, sort of, what was happening, you know. Yeah. Interesting.                        

Paul: How long were you in hospital for? Did you have rehab? And all that?                            

Rob: Yeah, I had about 6 weeks in in rehab. And then I reckon that took me probably about a year at home to kind of get back to sort of normality, so to speak. Whatever, whatever that means, you know.                  

Paul: Okay. What did they tell you? When … did they give you any kind of indicators as to, I don’t know, prognosis or what you could expect when you were in rehab? Or it was a day-by-day thing? What was your experience like?                            

Rob: There was an interesting. So, one thing I really remember was the doctor coming in. And, you know, some of these doctors don't have the best bedside manner. And, you know, he sort of said, oh, yeah, if you're going to have another stroke, odds are it will happen in the next 12 months. So, you kind of hold your breath for 12 months.                          

You know what I mean. It's kind of the last thing you want to hear.

Paul: Yeah pretty much.

Rob: In that way. So it was kind of, then I went into, obviously, into rehab. And you go and it’s just the nature of stroke, you're in there with a lot of older.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: Older humans. Wonderful people. So, I just had this amazing Occupational Therapist that would just, she just said, right, you know, I've spoken to your wife. This is where you were before your stroke.              

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: We're going to get you back to this. We're not just going to get you ticking the boxes.

Paul: Really.                    

Rob: That an 80 year old needs to tick to get you out of rehab. So let's work hard on getting that. So it’s literally like she said right, this is, let's just lift the goal for you a little bit.  And she was amazing. She was a game changer for sure.                          

Paul: I'm astounded. I mean that's an amazing thing to hear. What kind of goals was she putting out there that were above and beyond the old bog standard checklist of turning on a stove.              

Rob: You know, there’s checklists like you've got to stand on one leg, you know, your left leg. And then you've got to shut your eyes and this has got to be for a minute. And things like that. And she’ll go, alright for you it's got to be 3 minutes.

Paul: Yeah okay.

Rob: And things like that. And then she gave me things, like my right hand and fingers were no good. So, she just said, right, I want to get you. She gave me this game and we have to pick up all these little bits of wood and put it in holes and all this sort of stuff. So, she said, yep, I'll give you that. You know, from there, and then, okay, we want to get you. Most people will get on the treadmill for 5 minutes. For you we want you on there for half an hour. And stuff like that. So, I think it was just trying to get that muscle memory back as soon as possible. Yeah                

Paul: Did they talk about any sort of potential impacts on what life would be like post that acute stage?                  

Rob: No, it was quite interesting back then. It was kind of, you're left to your own. There was no Stroke Foundation. There was no anything. And it was kind of like, okay, well, once we tick these boxes in the hospital.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: Off you go. And if you do need to go and see someone, there's a pamphlet to see, you know, someone out of, you know, out of the hospital type of thing.                  

It was quite interesting.

Paul: Okay.

Rob: Well maybe I'll remember this old guy in there. And he had lost his memory with having stroke. And he had all his keycard numbers, all your ATM and all that sort of numbers on there. I remember him every day he would get up and he would just, around the ward, he would put like a chair behind that corner, a plant pot behind that corner, something else behind that corner.                    

And he wouldn't move on until he remembered what was around the next corner. He was trying to get his memory working again.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: Because he was from some academic industry. So his memory was his thing like my exercise. But it was just incredible. He just every day he would get up and just train his brain to try and get back.

You know, he'd been in that rehab, I think, for about 10 months. Or something like that. A long time

Paul: Yeah. So you're, I guess upon discharge from rehab, you were largely left to your own devices.

Rob: 100%. Look, the physical part of it was fine. I could deal with that.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: That was no problem. But it was the mental part that I think they needed to do a bit more work on. And I think that they obviously, the Stroke Foundation and places like that are now.              

Paul: Can you talk a little bit more about, you know, the mental part for from your side of things? A lot of people probably don't know or understand what goes through somebody's head?                        

Rob: Look, I think it's probably one of the most important and, you know, whatever it is, whatever physical hurdle you’ve come up with. Whether it's stroke or whatever it is, it's you've got to learn to trust your body again. I mean, like you were talking about it, you've got this body that's just working and suddenly it stops. You don't know why, you know?              

And it's kind of like, okay, well, that could happen at any, all the time. I’m like that could happen at any time you know.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: How do I trust that again? And having that, I still now, 13 years on. I still deal with that every single day. As soon as I get a little feeling in my head or something like that, my sight or something like that, I'm like, is it gonna happen again?                  

Paul: Yeah.                      

Rob: So, I suppose me doing those long runs and pushing my body was trying to deal with that mental issue of trusting my body again.                

Paul: Yeah. And I guess I find a little bit about that. I mean, physically, I'm in pretty okay condition. But for me I've got cognitive issues and I find it exactly the same sort of way. I don't trust my own brain. It's a weird thing to try and no pun intended, get your head around. And I mean, it sounds like the only way you've sort of really overcome that is to, it's by getting wins in the bank, right?

You build trust by getting wins.              

Rob: Absolutely. And things like I mentioned before, I love being in the water. And, you know, at the start, it was kind of like if that happened in the water, I wouldn't have made it. And so my friends would come out with me and just go, I’ll keep an eye on you. You know, and things like that.

Like, they, everyone knew I'd be fine apart from me. You know what I mean. So they just said yep, we'll keep an eye on you until I started trusting myself again.                                

Paul: Yeah, I guess, again. A little bit of risk. A little bit of planning, right?

Rob: Yeah.                      

Paul: Yeah, okay. So, did you have any sort of cognitive issues? Did you have any sort of memory type thing or are all of your issues physical?                                  

Rob: Yeah, all were physical. Yeah. What's really interesting is there's one thing that if you see that something is sad.

Paul: Okay.

Rob: I'll get a little weepy. I’ll weep, I’ll start weeping up.                          

Paul: Bit more emotional.                        

Rob: A bit more emotional, you know, which is quite funny. A friend of mine, he had a problem with his heart. I remember when he came into rehab. He goes, oh you’ll start looking at, like, little puppies or kittens and start crying and stuff. I’m like yeah, whatever. It’s true.                

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. You're not the first person I've heard that, like, say. I've compared notes with a few other folks. And I mean, it was especially for me very early in the piece. Yeah. I was an emotional nightmare. It's a weird thing. You’re just like on a hair trigger.                

Rob: Yeah. And I think also with me I went, you kind of go, alright, well, I just want to live in the bush and eat berries and get away from everything. But you still have to work in society.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: And that's the hardest thing. You kind of go, well, I don't want to do anything I don't want to do anymore because, you know, because this is what happened. I know what it's like for everything to almost be over. But you still got to find that balance of living and, you know, earning money and …

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: Doing all that type of thing.                          

Paul: How do you navigate it? Just one day at a time?                  

Rob: Yeah. Yeah, I do. I try not to do too many things that I don't really want to do. Kind of lucky in that way. And that's. Yeah, yeah. One day at a time. And I look at each opportunity as it comes. And go, do I really want to do this? What's the risk and reward? Before it was just like everything just full on.              

Paul: Go.                          

Rob: Go, go, go. Now it’s like, what do I really want?                    

Paul: Yeah. Do you have any permanent challenges that strokes left you with?                  

Rob: No, I suppose again, it's just I get my right side when I get tired, you know, it can, you know, I can feel it in my three fingers in my right hand.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: And the biggest challenge is still the mental issue, which is trusting yourself again.                

Paul: What is the …? Because I often still sometimes screw up my fatigue management. But the feedback is it takes a day. Like any dumb stuff I do today, I won't pay for it later today I’ll pay for it tomorrow. Do you find that as well? Or when you're cooked, you're cooked and you know it pretty instantly?                                  

Rob: Yeah. No, I did a … last week I did a long run that went through the night.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: And that's taken me probably a week, you know, and I'm starting to almost feel okay again. You know, just pushing my body through that.                  

Paul: I'm interested to hear what's the relationship between cognitive fatigue and physical fatigue for you? Is there a difference? I mean, I personally, if I spend more time looking at too many Zoom meetings, my brain's custard.

Rob: Yeah.

Paul: Do you find there’s a difference? Or is it all kind of similar to you? Or is it mainly physical?

Rob: No, I definitely have, you know, but again, I don't know. Is it in a normal realm? Or not? I can't look at screens for too long and things like that. I just, you know, it just becomes too much. But mine is mainly physical. I've just got a decent sleep every night.                            

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: And then I'm OK.                

Paul: So, if you've got fatigue or you're dealing with fatigue. I and, I guess like, probably quite a few others out there when we're told to pace ourselves. The amount of times I had OTs stop me. Because I was a boom and bust kind of guy. Always was before my injury, you know, go hard or go home. Not to the extent that I’m running 250km and the kind of stuff that you're doing Rob.

But, yeah, I ran my own business and that sort of stuff, and I tried to apply that same mentality when I first came home. You know, just go, just go. I'll worry about it later, you know, sleep afterwards.

So, everyone was saying, pace yourself, pace yourself. However, I find that if you pace yourself too much, you take the foot off the accelerator a little bit. And there's always that voice in the back of your head saying, oh, just take a day. Just take a rest. You've had a stroke. Do you know what I mean?

Rob: Yeah, yeah. 100%.

Paul: How do you manage, you know, that whole I need to look after myself from a fatigue perspective. I shouldn't push myself too far, but I'm not going to grow as a person if I don't push myself at all. To me it’s a razor fine line.                          

Rob: 100% and for me, it's kind of like if I'm standing still, someone's gonna past me. You know what I mean type of thing. And that's the way I look at it. But I kind of now know that, okay, well I pick the times. Like I've got to go away this week.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: For a bit. And I’m, okay, I know for two or three days it's going to be full on. There won't be much sleep. It'll be, you know, that type of thing. But then I know, okay that, next weekend or whatever, I'm going to have to allow some time to catch up.

Paul: So you put credits in the bank a little bit beforehand as well as allow for it afterwards.          

Rob: Absolutely. So I will, like, before this run I did last week, I will, you know, for a couple of days before I'll make sure I rest. Rest more than usual. And I'll sleep more than usual. Does that help? I don't know. But mentally, I'm kind of like I think it's in the subconscious. You're like, okay, well, I do have, as you say, credits in the bank, so it’d be better.

Paul: Okay. And you find that works pretty well for you?

Rob: Yeah. Yeah, because I know at some stages if I'm traveling that I can’t get, you know, lots and lots of sleep. And I can’t, you know, do that, have a nap in the day or something like that. So, yeah, I'm aware of that. So I've got to either take it at the start, before, or take it afterwards.                  

Paul: Is that something that you just had to work out yourself? Or did someone give you a tip somewhere?                  

Rob: No it’s just something I had to work out, you know. And it's interesting it's something, you have to, I suppose, deal with your friends, your family, all of them sort of need to know as well. And I kind of go, well, okay, well I need to take … I need to just stop.                

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: For a little bit. And for me, it can be a matter of just sitting down by the waters edge or something like that just for an hour or 2 hours. It doesn't necessarily have to be sleeping, you know.

Paul: Okay.

Rob: It's that mental. And I think that's for everyone as well. Whether you've had a stroke or not, just take that little mental break.                    

Paul: Yeah. And I guess what's life like for you now? I mean, are you back to compared to what it was like pre-injury? Do you think your career is still where it is, where it was, or has it changed?

Rob: The career’s probably bigger, but it's, mentally I'm not as obsessed with it.

Paul: Okay.

Rob: You know what I mean. If things go a little bit wrong one way or another, it's not the end of the world. You know, so it's still, I'm still pushing forward, but it's, yeah, with way less stress.

Paul: Okay.      

Rob: And exercise wise. Yeah, I'm still pushing, you know, I'm still pushing as hard as I can. But I've got a little nine year old that's into running and stuff like that. So I'm enjoying running with him and stuff like that, which is slowing me down a little bit, which I'm really enjoying.                

Paul: Yeah. So is the scope for your career and that kind of stuff still the same? I mean, I know what it's like, you know, when you're working in industry or you're running your own business or, you know, in sales, you've got 5 million balls in the air at the same time. Have you still, do you feel like you still got that amount that's going on? Or have you narrowed your focus?                

Rob: No, there's definitely still a lot going on. But I'm picking and choosing what I deal with and more who I deal with.

Paul: Okay.

Rob: If it's going to be a, you know, someone that is going to bring stress into my life and bring negative energy, then I'll just say no.

Paul: You've become a little bit more ruthless.

Rob: Yeah. Where before I'll just take everything. Let’s just do everything.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: So now it's kind of, you know, I choose, you know to work together with people I like and they like me and we go together.                

Paul: So how is it, I mean, how is the stroke experience? I mean, apart from the physical stuff and the recovery. I mean, has it really changed your sort of outlook on life?                        

Rob: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, my biggest thing at the moment is I say to people it's interesting how you almost have to die before you start to live.

Paul: Okay.

Rob: You know, and I say that to everyone. You speak to anyone like you or me or someone that's had a heart attack or something, and suddenly they go “Oh, now what do I want out of my life?” You know, after that happens.                            

And why aren't people doing that before they have that?

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: That issue, that's sort of what, you know, what I'm trying to get into people. Look at it now. Don’t just get in this rut of just doing stuff you don't want to do.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Paul: Yeah. So focus, would you say you're more focused on the things that you want to do? Yeah?

Rob: Yeah, yeah. And being around people that I want to be around.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: You know, from there, that's kind of what I'm really enjoying.                      

Paul: Do you find most people sort of get your deal with regards to needing those breaks? And, you know, do they understand? So I mean, you never really understand what it's like having a stroke until you've had one. But do they get conceptually, you know, what's changed for you with regards to how you have to manage things like fatigue and all that kind of stuff?                  

Rob: I would say majority, probably not.

Paul: Okay.

Rob: You know, even my wife. She was there when the whole thing happened. She gets it. But I think unless you've been in it, you just don't understand it completely. And I think it's, you know, up to us as stroke survivors to be patient with them as well.                          

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: And know that unless you’ve been through it. Like right now, if you said to me alright we’ve got to stop and, you know, I need a nap. I'll be like, yeah, no worries. Let's pick it up in an hour or two, you know what I mean?

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: It wouldn't be a worry. A lot of people will be like “What do you mean? You can't just hang on for another hour or something like that.” You know what I mean? Once you switch out, you're out, you know?              

Paul: So I guess with all of that, you know, history and that experience now. I mean, you're obviously still very motivated if you're out there smashing it, you know, in business and all of your training. You’re still obviously doing the large runs. What keeps you motivated to keep doing those same things? I mean, particularly when you, I know what it's like when I'm fighting fatigue. You know, I’m like I can’t be bothered doing the gym today. I feel like garbage. What keeps you hungry for getting up?                          

Rob: I suppose with the exercise point of view, it's habit, right? And it's kind of like you get into that habit. I mean, you know, I'm at that point now where you miss it if you don't do it. You know, I always say to people just four days a week. Whether it be running, whatever wanna do, riding. Just put your shoes on and just get out the door. Even if you only go out for 10 minutes.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: Just get in that habit of. You know, someone once told me about this guy who was really super overweight. He had to lose a bunch of weight. And his trainer said to him “I want you to go to the gym. I want you to go for 4 days a week, and I only want you to be there for 5 minutes for the first four weeks.”          

Paul: Yeah

Rob: And he goes “What do you mean?” And then so it was 4 weeks. He was there and he was just 5 minutes on the treadmill and I only want you to walk.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: And by the end, week two he’s like “I want to go longer.” And the trainers like no, no. Got to 4 weeks and said “Right another 2 weeks you do the same.”        

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: And by the end of it he was like I want more, I want to go longer. And the whole thing was just teaching that habit. And by the end of that 6 weeks, he’d made friends at the gym.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: You know, he was in that habit of putting his shoes on 4 days a week. Where, if you’d gone straight away and said, to him “Right, you've got, I want you to do an hour straight away” the guy would have just given up.                                          

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: Too hard. Got sore, got tired. But he just taught that habit. And I suppose I'm in that where I've got groups of people that, you know, I run with on a few days a week.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: I make them every week, you know, that type of thing has become that social part of my life as well. And it just becomes your life, as I always say that cliche. It becomes your lifestyle.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: And with work, I just love the wins. I love chasing and, you know, and succeeding and things like that. That gives me a buzz. So that keeps me motivated.                      

Paul: So, and this is a question I usually ask most people or pretty much everybody actually that I speak to when I'm having chats like this with them. Is, if you had one sort of piece of advice for someone that was lying in a hospital bed questioning their future like we all do, you know, when we’ve just had our injuries.

Like, I don't what the next, you know, I don't know what life is going to be like. What would you tell them?              

Rob: I would tell them there is hope.                  

Paul: Yeah.                                                  

Rob: And I would just say take very, very, very small steps at the start. Depending on what you can do. You know, it was for me, it was a matter of I'll start walking 3 or 4 steps down my driveway. And then the next day it'll be 5 or 6 steps. And then the next day it would be … It’s super, super small wins I suppose. And celebrate those wins, but also know that there will be days where you don't win.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: You know, there's going to be days, there's going to be dark days.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: There's going to be days when it just is the worst thing in the world. But know that there will be those positive days. But just small steps, you know, I think too many people go out and go I just want to be back to where I am, straight away.                      

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: You know, with me it was like I used to run with a group at the surf club, and, before my stroke. And I was running with, you know, some decent athletes. And I'd be up the front the whole time. And when I came back after my stroke, I was a kilometre behind the very, very last person.            

Paul: Yeah. Okay.                        

Rob: You know, on that run so far behind. But it didn't faze me. I was just, cool, I’ll just work slowly, slowly. So don't rush. The advice would be don't rush. Take small steps.                

Paul: Okay. And just to go off on a slight tangent. You did mention those dark times. I'm assuming you've probably had a few yourself, but being I guess, you know, a serious athlete, you learn to work your way through those dark times. Do you have any strategies for anybody out there that might be sort of dealing with those dark times themselves, how they sort of get through it?                

Because I guess, you know, you can, it really does feel like, well, I can't even make small steps. What's the bloody point? I'm sitting here drooling, you know, why bother?              

Rob: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I suppose if you move out of the hospital bed, some of my dark times at home, what I would do is just, I would sleep in the clothes that I needed to get out the door in in the morning. So I didn't have to, I just took all those excuses away. I’d literally put my shoes on, and I'd be like, I'm just going to get out and just walk every morning. I'm going to get up.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: At a certain time, get out the door and just walk. And by the time I got back from … I'm only talking 15 minutes, 10 or 15 minutes. I'll go for a walk and I'd be a different person rather than lie in bed and think about how things are.

I know if you’re stuck in bed, you can't get out of bed. I understand that's a completely different scenario. And that's going to be small things like, you know, alright I'm going to touch my hand to my face or something like that, okay? That's going to be, you know, I'm going to do that 10 times.

Just give yourself something in the morning. A little win.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: Every morning when you get up because I find that those mornings can be the worst.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: The worst times. Just getting out of bed can be the toughest time. So, if you just give yourself a little win in the morning.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: Then that can motivate you for the rest of the day.              

Paul: I must admit that's what killed me. Fatigue in the morning, particularly early in the piece. It was like, wow. It was just horrendous. I couldn't do anything in the morning. So it sounds like the trick is whatever you're choosing to do in the morning that you want to commit to, you've got to make it as easy for yourself as possible.                

Rob: 100%. Yeah. 100%. Look, I had everything but my shoes, you know, that's what I'd sleep in.

Paul: Okay. So would you say mornings are absolutely critical?                

Rob: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 100% mornings are critical. And I think, and I'm not talking about getting up and doing your rehab. It's just a matter of getting up and getting out, getting a bit of fresh air, if you can.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: I know if you're in a wheelchair or something it’s completely different. But if you can get out or just get moving a little bit in the mornings.                      

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: And then your rehab can come whenever, you know what I mean. Some people like to do it in the middle of the day. Some people like to do it at 10 in the morning, whatever, afternoon. That's fine. But just get your day started.

Paul: Start with a win no matter how small.                      

Rob: Start with a win. Every now and then, if you need to have a nap at 10 in the morning, well, at least you've got up. At least you've done something. You've had a win of some sort.                        

Paul: Yeah, I think that's really solid advice. That sounds like a great place to leave it Rob. Thank you again, once again, so much for your time.                    

Rob: No problem at all. And hope all is good in your world and you know you're getting better and better each day as well. And, you know, that's the main thing that we all just have our own little goals because it's our own journey.

Paul: Yeah.

Rob: But there's a group of us that are all there together, you know, helping each other as well.        

Announcer: This episode is part of the Young Stroke Podcast Series, created by Stroke Foundation’s Young Stroke Project. Find out more by visiting You can listen to dozens of other podcasts on our Stroke Recovery website, StrokeLine’s allied health professionals can help you manage your health and live well.

StrokeLine is a practical, free and confidential service. Call 1800 787 653, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time or email The advice given here is general in nature. Discuss your situation and needs with your health care professionals. The Young Stroke Podcast Series is presented by Australia’s Stroke Foundation and funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.