Meet Nicole Workman

At age 30, everything had fallen into place for Nicole Workman. She was married to a wonderful man, blessed with a son and another child on the way, landed her dream job as a teacher, and even achieved her goal of running half marathon distance through training at the Toby Wells YMCA in San Diego. Two years later everything changed for her.

In October 2015, she started feeling sick while teaching in her classroom. She was eight weeks pregnant at the time and thought nothing of it. However, hours later when she was still ill, her husband took her to the hospital. Doctors originally diagnosed her with acute migraines due to pregnancy. By the end of the week, her speech was slurred and she couldn’t walk. She went back into the hospital for a brain scan that immediately landed her in the ICU. The scan showed a cavernous malformation in her brain stem – in other words, weakened blood vessels broke and started to bleed, causing a hemorrhagic stroke. Nicole was placed on a medi-vac flight to Arizona to undergo emergency brain surgery with one only two doctors in the country trained to address her condition. One in three people don't survive this type of surgery. 

"In 72 hours, our family was changed forever and my husband was left considering a life without his wife and unborn child," she said. Nicole and her baby survived the surgery, but not without complications. Nicole was in severe pain – unable to walk, talk or feel anything on her left side. She returned to San Diego to begin recovery, just as her husband moved to Texas to complete his Army medic training program. 

“I had to be strong enough to give birth and strong enough to carry my newborn,” said Nicole. She remembers "cradling bags of rice to simulate carrying a baby and playing games to steady my trembling hands. I was struggling to raise my 10-year-old son while still 3 months pregnant."


"I needed a way to stay active and, most importantly, motivation to continue with my recovery. My family certainly was motivation for me, but something was missing. For many years I had been attending the YMCA, and working out had always been my happy outlet. But, I was now six months gone from it and decided it was time to go back."  She gave birth to a very healthy baby boy on May 5, 2016.

After a stroke, there is a window of opportunity to regain voluntary muscle control, and Nicole knew her window was getting smaller. She still needed a cane to walk and her balance was very unstable.

"It was very hard and embarrassing to have people see me struggle, stumble and even cry. I used to be able to run 16 miles!" said Nicole.

Working with the YMCA, Nicole’s father put her on a workout program that suited her abilities. He hooked her up with Deb, a personal trainer at Toby Wells YMCA.

"What can I say about Deb, except that she changed me. She gave me my confidence back. She pushed limits for me that I never thought possible," said Nicole. "From limping into the Y with a cane to running laps around it, the staff wouldn’t  let me fail. I thought I had lost running, that I had to be a different person, that the “old Nikki” was gone.

"Once, during a workout, I asked Deb  if I was ever going to run again. We stopped what we were doing and walked over to the basketball courts inside. She stood by my side and had me jog the length of the court about five times, taking a break after each length. I was almost in tears because I didn’t think my legs did that anymore. But they did.

The Y has helped me remember who I was, and more importantly, reminded me that I can be that person again. Today, I'm lifting weights again. I walk up and down stairs without holding on. I can do TRX! The Y gave me more than physical fitness – the Y changed my life and has been a major inspiration on my road to recovery."


Nicole trained for the Hot Chocolate 15K & 5K Race in San Diego on March 26, 2017. She ran with Deb and her husband, who had been training simultaneously while still in Texas. 

From our Facebook page: Finishing the Hot Chocolate 15k/5k? No problem for Team Nikki. Thanks for constantly inspiring us!

See more on Nikki and Deb's story:

Nicole Gives Back

"I raised money for the Y by running the Hot Chocolate 15K. With help and support from my family and friends, my husband, my trainer Deb, and her fiancée, who is also an amazing Y trainer, they all ran by my side and I finished the race. It was tougher than I thought but I needed to prove to myself I can, and at the same time, I needed to make sure that others who need support… or a helping hand… or a place to find themselves again… or friends who believe in them… have that at the Y. Because I did, and I’m eternally grateful. Every time I felt like stopping during the race, Deb just seemed to know. She was there offering an arm or simple conversation to distract me, or with words of encouragement when I needed it most.

The Y, especially Toby Wells, is more than just a gym to me; it is a place where I have made new friends who don’t judge me for what I can or cannot do. I never feel embarrassed or ashamed when I’m there. I feel empowered and proud of who I’ve become, what I’ve accomplished and look forward to continue taking my recovery one step set a time with my family, friends, and the Y by my side."