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What Bradley Rose (pictured above) thought was just a bad headache turned out to be a stroke at the age of 33. Photography courtesy of Peloton
  • Over the past few decades, stroke rates and hospitalizations for strokes have increased by more than 40 percent among younger adults.
  • Fitness instructor Bradley Rose had a stroke at age 33 and then found his way to become a Peloton instructor.
  • While recovery from a stroke varies from person to person, there is hope.

In January 2019, actor and fitness instructor Bradley Rose woke up feeling well and ready to tackle the day. As planned, he went to the New York City gym he was employed at and began teaching boxing class. However, mid-class, suddenly everything went black.

“I had the world’s worst headache… and in my head I thought, ‘Oh I’m just exhausted. I’m tired from [juggling being an actor and fitness instructor].’ So I jumped off the stage thinking, ‘Just keep going,’” Rose told Healthline.

However, the room began swaying and swirling, prompting him to walk into the hall, grab another instructor to take over, and rush to the gym’s office. He sat down and rested his head on his hands for what he thought was 5 minutes, but later learned was 3 hours.

For the next couple of weeks, Rose visited several doctors and underwent numerous tests, until he was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect (ASD), a birth defect that is characterized by a hole in the wall that separates the top two chambers of the heart. Doctors determined that Rose’s hole caused a clot to form, which traveled from Rose’s heart into his brain, leading to a stroke.

“Oftentimes, there are no signs and symptoms of an ASD, but it is possible that it may be detected on an electrocardiogram. The definitive diagnosis can be made with an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart,” Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a leading preventive cardiologist and member of Peloton’s Health and Wellness Advisory Council, told Healthline.

The symptoms associated with an ASD depend on how large it is and in what direction blood is flowing through it, explained Dr. Adam Saltman, cardiothoracic surgeon and the chief medical officer of Eko.

“In the vast majority of cases, blood flows (shunts) through an ASD from left to right, that is, from the left atrium to the right atrium. A left to right shunt does not cause strokes,” he told Healthline.

Additionally, larger ASDs tend to produce heart failure because the large amount of blood shunting from the left side to the right side will overload the right side, Saltman said.

While undergoing surgery to fix Rose’s detected hole, the surgeon discovered another small ASD and repaired both.

When Rose learned he had a stroke, it was hard for him, family, and friends to believe, given he was only 33 years old and fit. However, according to the American Heart Association, each year, 10 to 15 percent of people in the United States who have a stroke are between ages 18 and 45.

Moreover, over the past decades, stroke rates and hospitalizations for strokes have increased by more than 40 percent among younger adults.

“In some rare situations, strokes can happen in even young and fit people. Usually, the cause is from a congenital abnormality — a problem that you are born with,” said Steinbaum.

However, most people have the misunderstanding that strokes don’t affect the young and healthy. So was the case for Rose.

“No one understood that [I] could have [had] a stroke. I think we all have the perception — I did, my friends did, my family did — that stroke is an older person [issue],” he said.

When Rose first underwent surgery, he was told that he may not be able to teach fitness classes again based on how his recovery went.

In fact, recovery after a stroke varies for everyone. It can take weeks, months, or years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Full recovery may not happen for some people, and others may experience long-term or lifelong disabilities.

Rose is still recovering 3 years after his stroke and described his recovery as being filled with massive highs and massive lows.

“It’s not linear and it’s not easy,” he said. “There had to be a coming to terms with I’m not the same mentally and physically. I now have issues that I have to deal with. That’s the toughest part. Looking at your life and being like, ‘Wow, everything’s different.’”

He credits his wife and family for the progress he’s made so far.

“They can take me at my worst. It’s me that had the stroke, but the impact on every aspect of my family was kind of crazy,” he said.

Their support helped him get back into physical shape and regain his love for teaching fitness. When the opportunity to work as a cycling instructor for Peloton came up, Rose was intrigued, but hesitant.

“I wanted to be out of the fitness world. I was kind of like, ‘I don’t like it, I don’t like the people running it, it’s really toxic, it’s not a good environment for me, especially coming back from something like this,’ but what I noticed was Peloton was very different,” he said.

While he hoped to get back to acting, effects on his short-term memory made it difficult to go on auditions and memorize lines. Peloton seemed like the perfect opportunity, though Rose wasn’t sure if he could manage it. He got the clear from doctors.

After being transparent with Peloton about his stroke, the company decided to give him a shot. In March 2021, he began teaching cycling on the platform. On his premiere ride, over 12,000 Peloton members joined live. Over the past year, his unofficial Peloton tag #RosesRebels, created by Peloton members, has amassed over 8,500 members.

“It’s still not easy; it’s still difficult. Not being able to use parts of my body, not being able to remember certain things… it’s all a massive thing… [But] I love it,” said Rose.

Recovery from an event like Rose had is more likely when routine exercise is part of a person’s life, said Steinbaum.

“His mental resilience coupled with his physical fitness enabled him to stay on track to recover and get back to optimal health,” she said. “Staying fit and healthy with exercise and diet, and living a heart-healthy lifestyle, is critical for all of us.”

Rose aims to be a beacon of hope and inspiration to those taking his classes. He makes it a priority to ask his followers how they are feeling and takes the time to respond to their comments.

For instance, due to the pandemic, many of his followers inform him that they are not doing well — feeling alone, feeling left out, and feeling anxious and nervous about getting back into the world.

“Sometimes, I wake up to 3 to 400 messages and it’s difficult [to answer them all], but even if [I respond] with an emoji, even if it’s just a ‘great job,’ ‘amazing work,’ those little things can help people so much and that positivity they get… hopefully they’ll pass it forward,” he said.