Following a stroke, ultrarunner endures and perseveres
William Sprouse has completed 67 100-mile runs since 2012 and has a goal to complete 100.
CHAPMAN, Kan. (KWCH) - William Sprouse, known as Iron Will in the ultrarunning community, has crossed many finish lines. To get there, his body has endured a lot.
Now, getting to the finish has him challenging his body even more as he works to overcome one of his biggest challenges yet.
“It’s been frustrating because just ability isn’t there, and I want my body to do it, and I try harder, but nothing ever gets better,” said Sprouse.
Inside Aid Station Pub and Pizza in Chapman, Sprouse’s family’s restaurant is a testament to his accomplishment and ability. In the back is a treadmill to help him train.
“I kind of start out slow until my brain kind of gets situated,” he said.
Since 2012, Sprouse said he’s completed 67 ultra runs all around the country.
Now, he has his sights set on joining an exclusive club in the ultrarunning community.
Sprouse said, “Run 100 100-milers. I believe right now; there are 12 people that have accomplished it.”
This journey all started following the death of his father.
“What inspired me to run marathons was my dad was a marathon runner. He was in the military for 24 years, and he ran races for the Army. He was really healthy, never smoked, never drank, but he got cancer, and he fought cancer for 12 years. Went through a vicious batter with it,” Sprouse said. “When my dad passed in 2005, I was weighed over 300 pounds, and I kind of took up running to cope with stress, and it was kind of like a mid-life crisis for me to lose weight and kind of honor my dad.”
He was able to work his way up in the running world but has to put that on pause following a motorcycle accident.
“Been kind of an unlucky person,” he said, “In 2010, I dog ran out in front of me while I was riding a motorcycle, and I flipped over the bike at highway speeds and broke 47 bones in my body and had internal injuries. They said I may not be able to, or probably wouldn’t be able to run again.”
But it wasn’t long before he was back on his feet and running again. Although Sprouse said after his accident, he wasn’t as fast. That led him to ultrarunning, which has a slower pace but allows for him to still be competitive.
He said, “Really on fire in 2020 on the races. I had three second-place overall finishes. One first place.”
In the fall of 2020, Sprouse has to stop his stride. The day before Thanksgiving, he suffered a stroke. The cause was an undiagnosed heart defect.
“Had a stroke in my Medulla and the brain damage that occurred, I don’t have any feeling on my right side. My left side, I have control issues, including drop foot. I have balance issues; I always want to fall to my left. I’ve got vertigo and dizziness, basically all the time when I’m standing up,” said Sprouse. “Also, on my right side, my brain doesn’t trigger my hamstring or my glut, which are two pretty important running muscles. I just get a little spasm.”
“Then I found out the Medulla also controls your vital organs, including your heart and lungs, and my brain doesn’t regulate my heart rate like it should. For example, my body can run a 10 to 12-minute mile, but my brain won’t regulate my heart rate, so it would shoot up to 200 beats per minute, which is really bad. That’s like heart attack territory,” he added.
He’s come a lot further than his original prognosis.
“They were preparing me to live life with a wheelchair. I’m pretty stubborn, and that’s why I was able to have success at the 100-milers,” Sprouse said.
That stubbornness paying off.
He said, “Only one week in rehab, I stood on my own for over 10 seconds.” By the end of that day, taking his first steps again.
As someone who had run 100-mile races with a broken bone, head wounds, and through whatever is in the forecast, Sprouse was going to get back to his passion.
In February 2021, he was at the start line of his first post-stroke ultra run. While those early ones back didn’t see him get back to the finish, there was progress with each one.
Then in June, he did it.
“Fifth try, I was able to complete my first post-stroke 100-miler only seven months after not even being able to stand,” said Sprouse.
A month later, he completed his second 100-mile race. The last week of July, he’s heading to Wisconsin to see about making it a third.
He said part of what has gotten him this far is his wife, Carrie, who is there for his races as his main support crew. It’s also the ultrarunning family.
“Yeah, I’ll try to keep from getting choked up, but those guys they pulled together,” he said.
They’re joining him in the races as pacers, people who run alongside him to help along the way.
“If I didn’t have those guys... honestly, I don’t think I could have come back to 100-mile racings,” he said.
Sprouse said he doesn’t expect to get back to his performance before the stroke but continues to make improvements where he can.
He’s still working toward the goal of 100 100-milers.
Sprouse said he has some surgeries coming up, including one for his heart. He’s hoping that will allow for better regulation of his heartbeat.
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