Mike Rouleau’s journey from Davidson to contestant on the television show “American Ninja Warrior” began almost exactly a year ago. It started with a headache.
Only this was no ordinary headache – it was a cerebral hemorrhage.
Rouleau, 46, a bank executive who lives in River Run, was training in a gym when he first felt the pain in the back of his head. He quickly passed it off as a lingering side effect of a skiing accident he had experienced 13 years before that occasionally resulted in soft tissue problems in his neck.
Ten minutes later, though, the headache grew exponentially worse, and he left the gym. By the time he arrived home, he was having trouble seeing.
Hours later, Rouleau was lying in the intensive care unit at Carolinas Medical Center, with the diagnosis of a cerebral hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain. The bleeding had stopped, but the blood needed to be reabsorbed by his body.
Not long after he received the news from the doctor, Rouleau made a promise to his wife, Christina, and their three sons, Hunter, 12, Parker, 10, and Hayden, 8. Not only would he recover – he would get himself back into such great shape that he could try out for the show “American Ninja Warrior,” where competitors tackle a series of obstacle courses in qualifying rounds, with goal of reaching the final competition.
Before that could happen, he needed time to heal – up to eight weeks of bed rest, with limited mobility. Because of the way the hemorrhage affected his vision, Rouleau could not tolerate watching television.
But for short periods of time he could read, and record his thoughts in a journal that he kept by the bed. “The length of the recovery gave me a unique opportunity to be introspective. How you see the future after challenges like this affects your perception of self. So I thought, ‘How am I as a father, husband, brother, employee and friend?’”
“I realized there was not much I would change, which was comforting. The incident reaffirmed that my priorities and approach were on track. But I wanted to use the time to identify and understand the ways I wanted to evolve.”
Exercise was one of the many channels Mike used to challenge himself, as well as connect with others. Five weeks into his recovery, he was allowed to start taking short walks, and he slowly ramped up with his routine. Now, though, “I’m more pragmatic about my limitations,” he said.
However, that didn’t stop him from returning to fighting shape. In January, he began the lengthy application process to make good on his promise and try out for “American Ninja Warrior.” He was selected to compete in the Orlando, Fla., regional competition.
Christina and his sons went with him and were able to stand just yards away from his start point on the course – so close he was able to hand off his lucky coin to his youngest son and tell his family he loved them.
The results of the show are strictly confidential until the airing, which will be June 22. No matter the outcome, Rouleau said, he feels grateful he had the chance to fulfill his promise – one of many he’s made to himself since his hemorrhage.
He plans to compete in the U.S. Powerlifting Competition in the fall. He’s also gathered a group of friends and his brother, and in July they’ll all compete in the Tough Mountain Challenge, an adventure race in Maine. “For me, it’s about having the experience, and sharing it – not necessarily winning it,” he said.
Amy Reiss is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Amy? Email her at email@example.com.
Want to watch?
You can watch Mike Rouleau compete on “American Ninja Warrior” at 8 p.m. June 22 on NBC.