This spring, Brad and Joni Bailey are hoping to finish three Spartan obstacle course races, a series called the Trifecta. It ends with the 12-mile Beast race next month in Montana.
When they booked entry, the Spokane Valley couple at first didn’t recognize the significance of the last race’s date. In a way, the day’s finishing line will mark victory over a different kind of endurance journey they’ve navigated.
The Beast falls on the third anniversary of the day – May 4, 2016 – Brad Bailey suffered a stroke, sparking a series of other health issues. A root cause was an abnormal tangle of blood vessels called arteriovenous malformation in his brain, a problem that went unresolved until late 2017.
“We booked that last race, and a couple of days later we were laying in bed and said, ‘What was the date on that?’ ” said Brad Bailey, 35. “It is literally three years to the day of the stroke. We didn’t even plan that.
“I think our run time is 9:30 a.m., which is when the stroke happened. It’s been a crazy way that things have lined up. Someone has been watching over us. I think that race will be pretty emotional to finish.”
Back in 2016, Bailey had just completed a bench press at Anytime Fitness in Liberty Lake when he suddenly felt a massive headache.
“Only one member was here, a gentleman who had a stroke, and he right away recognized the symptoms,” said Bailey, who owns the gym with his wife. “I had called Joni, and said, ‘What are the chances of having a stroke after a bench press?’
“We kind of put the pieces together, then my mom drove me to the Providence Medical Park.”
By then, he had started to lose words and felt nauseous. Quick action brought him to the hospital, and doctors discovered the AVM in his brain, a condition that can cause disrupted blood flow and oxygen circulation. His stroke was hemorrhagic, when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and bleeds.
Physicians told him he was born with the AVM. People don’t necessarily know they have the condition, and it can occur in other parts of the body. A potential rupture is random. “It could have happened 10 years ago, and if I sneezed,” he said.
He needed surgery to remove the AVM, a risky procedure, because of the region of the brain involved.
“The risk was losing my short-term memory, and my communications,” he said. “I could have come out of it not knowing who anyone was.”
The surgery was at Seattle’s Swedish Hospital in September 2016, and Brad recovered without any loss of function. Doctors thought they got the AVM, and the couple believed life would return to normal. That includes time with their now 3-year-old daughter, Madison.
They also hoped to train for something they could do together: Spartan races.
“After that first surgery, Brad had mentioned doing Spartans or something we could do for fitness together, but he felt like something still wasn’t right; he said he felt pressure in his head,” said Joni Bailey, also 35.
He hesitated returning to exercise, and then another medical emergency put plans on hold.
While enjoying a day on Spirit Lake on July 5, 2017, Brad fell down on the bow of the couple’s boat from a grand mal seizure. Joni went to her husband’s aid and then navigated the boat back to the launch so he could go to Kootenai Health.
The seizure was a setback. A Spokane neurosurgeon told them the seizure “was a red flag” that the AVM might still be there.
“The seizure was probably the toughest piece,” he said. “My mood was just defeated. I couldn’t drive for six months, and to have a big seizure that I don’t remember, it was frustrating. I was grouchy about, why even work out? It was tough.”
Facing a second brain surgery, and the same risks, the couple went to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. An Anytime Fitness member urged them to go there and see Dr. Michael Lawton, who did the second surgery in December 2017.
That procedure did remove all of the AVM, confirmed by an angiogram, Brad Bailey said.
“We flew home on Christmas day of 2017, and then began the process of recovery and healing.”
His motivation returned with that clean bill of health. Pressure in the head was gone. He felt better.
They both have remained fit over the years, starting about 12 years ago when Joni wanted the couple to eat healthier and work out. They met while at the Oregon Institute of Technology where both did sports. Brad has always enjoyed running.
After school, the Baileys moved to Spokane so he could work in insurance. He still does a bit of that work, such as providing life insurance services. Joni Bailey works part time as a medical imaging tech for Inland Imaging.
The couple’s main focus is the Anytime Fitness gym. They were members for about nine years before buying it 2016, a month before Brad Bailey’s stroke.
“With us doing fitness, I think it had a huge impact on my recovery,” he said. “The doctors told us as young as we are, and the shape I was in, is one of the reasons I came out of the stroke as well as I did. I lost some strength for a little bit.
“If you didn’t see the scars from surgery, you might not even know this happened.”
When it comes to the Spartan runs, they said they felt excited after finishing the 3-mile Sprint on March 9 in Las Vegas. Until that race, the couple hadn’t done any Spartan competitions.
They’re determined to run all of them together and help each other complete the obstacles.
Each course’s obstacles vary, and competitors don’t know what to expect until they approach them. The challenges might include crossing mud trenches, climbing over walls, carrying sand bags, navigating monkey bars, throwing a javelin and scaling a rope or cargo net.
If an obstacle isn’t completed, it’s 30 burpees, which are squat, push-up moves.
The couple is preparing to go Saturday to the 8-mile Super race in Seattle. They have a few weeks to recover until the Beast.
“We just jumped into all three Spartans,” Brad Bailey said. “When we got done with the Sprint, it was exciting. We got to the car, and said, ‘What have we signed up for,’ because the next two just get bigger and bigger.
“We’re nervous and excited. There are very elite athletes who do this. We’re not trying to win it. We just want to finish it and say we did a Trifecta together.”
Joni Bailey added, “After the first run, it just felt like a sense of accomplishment, knowing that Brad was physically capable of doing it.”
Looking back, the Baileys credited the support of family, friends and gym members. Their parents took turns watching their daughter during hospital stays and surgeries.
“We’ve had amazing support and outpouring of love from our family, friends and members,” Joni said. “She (Madison) has been a ray of sunshine through it all.”
Gym members often ask how they’re doing. Many are friends, cheering them on in Spartan.
Brad Bailey said he went into the surgeries knowing there were no “take-backs” if something went wrong.
“Joni’s been an anchor in this storm,” he said. “We’re believers, and that was the one thing I went into the surgeries with, that is (God’s) with me, and I’m going to be OK either way.”
“We’re still on a journey. We have a lot of catching up to do and we have a lot of goals in mind.”
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