Former rugby captain planning to run half-marathon just 10 months after having a stroke

06:30 27 June 2014

Mike Jolly at Ringland church, one of his favourite spots, with son Harry. Photo: Bill Smith

Mike Jolly at Ringland church, one of his favourite spots, with son Harry. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2014

A Taverham father-of-two who suffered a stroke after tearing an artery in his neck while playing rugby is aiming to run a half- marathon on his road to recovery.


Recognising the signs and symptoms of stroke

•The face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile or their mouth or eye may have drooped

•The person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift one or both arms and keep them there because of arm weakness or numbness

•Speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake

•Numbness or weakness resulting in complete paralysis of one side of the body

•Sudden loss of vision


•Communication problems, difficulty talking and understanding what others are saying

•Problems with balance and coordination

•Difficulty swallowing

•Sudden and severe headache, unlike any the person has had before, especially if associated with neck stiffness

•Blacking out (in severe cases).

Mike Jolly was captain of Norwich Rugby Club’s second team, the Norwich Lions, when he unknowingly tore his vertebral artery during a game last October.

While the tear healed, a clot headed up to his brain and as a result the 44-year-old had a stroke while driving home afterwards, and was left unable to walk or talk.

After months of rehabilitation, Mr Jolly has regained his fitness and is now planning to take part in the Great Yarmouth Half-Marathon on Sunday, August 10, to raise funds for the Stroke Association.

Mr Jolly, a relationship director for Norwich’s NatWest bank, said: “The day I had my stroke began just like any other typical day. I played rugby as usual, but unbeknown to me I had split my vertebral artery whilst playing, and had the beginning of my stroke as I was driving home. I began to feel really unwell, so I pulled over quickly and luckily so did another driver who could see I was in trouble.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.

People who are elderly, have diabetes or high blood pressure are in high-risk group of stroke.

Strokes are a medical emergency and prompt treatment is essential. The sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage they are likely to suffer.

If you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

“I was referred to Addenbrooke’s for one week where I struggled to do pretty much anything, even walking or talking.

“I was extremely frightened and couldn’t quite believe that I could have a stroke – I was 44, and led a fit and healthy lifestyle. Until my stroke I assumed that strokes happened to older people, or those with bad health. I soon came to learn that I was very wrong.”

After months of rehabilitation, Mr Jolly became stronger, and took on the huge challenge of teaching himself and his 18-year-old son, Harry, how to run long distance. Mr Jolly, who lives in Maple Drive with his son, 15-year-old daughter Anna and his wife Denise, added: “I have always been a keen runner. But after my stroke the thought of walking, let alone running was a distant one.

“As a dad-of-two, I wanted to still be a big part of my children’s lives. In January I said to my son that we would teach him how to run longer distances, and so one day we went out and I pushed myself to run four miles with him. This was a huge achievement for me and my son, and a special moment that I was grateful to share with Harry.”

"Until my stroke I assumed that strokes happened to older people, or those with bad health. I soon came to learn that I was very wrong."

Mike Jolly

Mr Jolly does most of his training in the quiet lanes around Ringland St Peter church.

He said: “I’m not really a religious man, but I always run near the church. When I get back to it I always say thank you that I am able to be here, to see the beautiful countryside, the things growing around me, and all that I used to take for granted.”

Mr Jolly still goes along to the rugby club to train and show his support for the players, and he also visits his local scout club, The 8th Norwich Sea Scouts, where we was an active scout leader before his stroke. He now helps out on a Tuesday night, with others taking over the management of the evening.

While physically he has recovered well, Mr Jolly says his head still feels “sludgy” and he struggles to multi-task, but he is quick to point out that he is in a far better position than many other people who have experienced a stroke.

Mike Jolly training aorund lanes near his home with son Harry. Photo: Bill SmithMike Jolly training aorund lanes near his home with son Harry. Photo: Bill Smith

His wife Denise said: “Mike has never done things half heartily, he’s passionate, committed and driven so I wasn’t surprised when he said that he had signed up to the half marathon with his friend.”

Tam Marshall, regional fundraiser from the Stroke Association in the East of England, said: “We know how focused Mike is, and have no doubt that he’ll get to the finish line with a huge smile on his face.”

To sponsor Mr Jolly, log on to


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