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Stroke survivor taking on Peachtree
April Holbrook holds a photo of herself on her 29th birthday with son, Jake, now 12. Ten years ago, when she was just 30, the north Forsyth resident suffered a major stroke as a complication from earlier surgical procedures. - photo by Crystal Ledford

April Holbrook may not clock the fastest time in the Peachtree Road Race on Thursday, but that’s fine with her.

The north Forsyth resident has had a much longer journey than most in getting to the 10K, which will be held in Atlanta beginning at 7:30 a.m. with some 60,000 participants.

Ten years ago, when she was just 30, Holbrook suffered a major stroke as a complication from earlier surgical procedures. She said she was in the shower when it happened.

Luckily her husband, Jason, and two children, Jake and Mollie, who were just 2 and 5 at the time, were at home.

“My husband called my mom and said, ‘She fell in the shower,’” Holbrook recalled. “My mom came up and by the time she got here, she said, ‘Jason, I think she’s had a stroke’ because my mouth was drawn.”

Holbrook was taken by ambulance to an area hospital, where doctors said there wasn’t anything they could do for her.

Jason Holbrook asked if there was anything that could be done elsewhere. They contacted a nearby neurologist, who said she would perform an emergency craniotomy.

So Holbrook was flown to another hospital. After the procedure, she spent three months in intensive care. Doctors did not expect her to recover.

“It’s amazing to know that they didn’t even really give her a chance to get out of bed or to walk or anything,” Jason Holbrook said. “She’s definitely defied all the medical odds and really come a long way.”

After she recovered enough to come out of ICU, she spent another 18 months in the hospital in rehabilitation.

“I had to learn how to breathe, walk, talk, everything,” she said.

Therapy continued after she finally got to come back home.

Her mother, Joyce Croy, spent many nights with her. April Holbrook said she would set an alarm clock for every two hours throughout the night to get up and do range of motion exercises with her daughter

“I hated it,” she joked. “I would be sleeping good and then all of a sudden that alarm clock would go off.”

Jason Holbrook said the family got much support from Croy, as well as his mother, Janice Holbrook, and April’s aunt, Patsy Seabolt, during the recovery.

“There was at least one of those ladies here around the clock for many months,” he recalled. “There’s no way I could have done it without them helping me.”

Five years ago, April Holbrook and her mother-in-law were talking when Janice Holbrook brought up the Peachtree Road Race.

“She was talking about a man who finished that year and he could just barely take a step, just went very slow, just one foot in front of the other,” April Holbrook said. “And I said, ‘I can do that.’

“She said, ‘Well, do it.’ And I said in five years I would do it and now here we are.”

She has spent those years getting ready for the race by using an exercise bike and walking a lot.

Last year, she walked the length of her driveway, which is about half a mile, 285 times. She’s also taken part in several 5Ks and the family often walks together at Rock Creek Park in Dawson County.

She also walks with a group of ladies from the family’s church, Ophir Baptist.

A few of them, along with Jason, Mollie, Jake, and two of her cousins will be walking along with her Thursday.

“We have T-shirts that say ‘Team Miracle’ on them,” April Holbrook said. “I’m so blessed to have so much support from my family and friends.”

She’ll also be wearing bright yellow capris, blue sneakers, a pink hat and thin blue rubber bracelet, which always graces her arm. On it are the words, ‘Why not me.’

She said that phrase has begun a sort of motto after her ordeal.

“A lot of people would say, ‘Why me?’ when all this stuff has happened, but I just say, ‘Why not me,’” she said.

Thursday she’ll also have a little help from a sparkly blue walking cane.

“I’ll be taking the Peachtree just one step at a time,” she said.

But that’s how she and her family have gotten through the past decade.

“The stroke changed me physically and spiritually,” she said. “Every step I take, I say, ‘Lord, just hold my hand.’ The times I didn’t say that when I was in rehab, I fell, so it didn’t take me long to realize I forgot something when I didn’t say it.”

As for her husband, to whom she’s been married 18 years, laughter has been important.

“We deal with this a lot just with laughter because if not we’d just sit around and cry all the time,” he said. “It’s been a journey and she has really overcome everything we’ve put in front of her.

“The last 10 years have been totally different than the first eight [of our marriage], but the love’s still there. I still love her and want to push her as far as I can.”

There will be plenty of motivation and laughter Thursday as the family takes on the road race.

“We’re planning on cheering her through it or at least letting her drag us through it if we can’t make,” he joked. “She’s trained a lot more than I have.”

April Holbrook won’t be lacking for a cheering section in Atlanta or here in Forsyth County.

Dee Bramblett, a friend from Ophir Baptist, said the whole church will be backing her.

“Doing the Peachtree was one of her ‘bucket list’ items and praise God she’s going to do it this week,” she said.

Bramblett said anyone who ever needs motivation should just look to April Holbrook.

“[Doctors] just gave her up and her mother and husband didn’t give up on her and look at where she’s at today. She’s an inspiration.

“Any time I think, ‘Oh, I can’t do that,’ I just think about April and say, ‘If April can do it, I can do it.”