14 March 2024

Kiama stroke survivor Alice Johnson prepares to tackle ultramarathon

| Zoe Cartwright
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Stroke survivor, marathon runner and registered nurse Alice Johnson is preparing to run 100 km this month.

Stroke survivor, marathon runner and registered nurse Alice Johnson is preparing to run 100 km this month. Photo: Stroke Foundation.

Kiama mum Alice Johnson was never really into running – until doctors told her she couldn’t do it.

Now she’s lacing up her joggers in preparation for a 100-kilometre ultramarathon this March to raise awareness of stroke.

Alice, a registered nurse, was just 29 when she had a stroke, five days after she gave birth to her second child.

“I was always active; I played team sport and I like adventure,” she said.

“I was just a normal active person, and after the stroke I was told the risk of dehydration and clots meant I couldn’t exercise competitively, so I thought, ‘I’m going to take up running.'”

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Mindful of her vulnerabilities, Alice took it easy and was mindful of managing her hydration.

With each passing kilometre she was amazed by what her body was capable of. Six months after her stroke, she ran 10 km.

“I wanted to control my health a bit more, and I completely fell in love with running,” she said.

“My little guy was waking up at 5 am, so, as not to wake the family up I would run with the pram, and then it was a slippery slope from the 10K to a half marathon.

“I signed up for a marathon last year and I had an idea swirling in the back of my brain to sign up for a 100-kilometre event.

“So, to celebrate turning 40 last year, and to mark a decade post-stroke, I signed up for the Mount Buffalo Stampede.”

A decade on, Alice says doctors aren’t sure why she had a stroke.

She is among the 145,000 survivors of stroke living in NSW. Regional Australians are 17 per cent more likely to have a stroke than those in metropolitan areas.

She hopes her run will help alleviate the sense of loneliness stroke sufferers, and especially young stroke sufferers, can feel.

“I wanted to share my story because I felt very alone,” she said.

“I felt scared and lonely and almost a little bit ashamed, and no one should feel like that.

“When you think of stroke you think of the elderly, but it’s not uncommon for young people. They did all the tests and couldn’t find out why – the only thing they could put it down to was I have migraine with aura and had recently had a baby, and both of those things can increase your risk.

“I wanted other people who are young and have had a stroke to see I’ve been through it and survived and pushed through boundaries, and there’s no limits; you will be OK.”

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A nurse herself, Alice said her stroke symptoms were less intense than her migraines, and she put them down to post-partum exhaustion.

Luckily her brother realised what was happening.

“I didn’t get the tingling, aura or loss of sight I usually get with a migraine,” she said.

“I felt confused and tired. Even with my history in emergency nursing, I didn’t realise I was having a stroke.

“It was my brother who was a police officer that recognised the F.A.S.T. [Face. Arms. Speech. Time.] signs.”

Stroke Foundation CEO Dr Lisa Murphy commended Alice on her efforts.

“Taking on a 100-kilometre run is no easy feat,” Dr Murphy said.

“There’s no doubt Alice is an incredible human who is proving anything is possible after stroke.

“Unfortunately, stroke can happen to anyone, at any time. In fact, around 29 strokes happen to Australians aged between 18 and 65 every day.

“Stroke touches too many families. An Australian has a stroke every 19 minutes. But they can be prevented and treated if you seek medical help quickly.”

The Buffalo Stampede Festival kicks off in Victoria on 22 March and continues until 24 March.

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