COPPELL, Texas — At the 9Round Fitness studio in Coppell, people come to sweat.
They come for inspiration, for motivation, and lessons in refining discipline. What they didn't expect was to receive all of those gifts from one man.
"I try to work out every single day," Robert Martinez said. "That’s just who I am.”
Martinez is the franchise owner of 9Round Coppell. A runner for most of his life, you could say that he's fueled by his ability to freely move.
"I’ve done triathlons; I’ve always lifted weights," he said.
So, when Martinez suddenly lost that freedom, it was a devastating blow.
"My eyes were rotating counter-clockwise," he said. "I was paralyzed on the left side of my body and the right side of my face."
On September 18, 1998, Martinez's then-girlfriend Jennifer rushed him to the hospital.
"He was sweating, dizzy, his speech was slurred," she said.
Doctors discovered signs of bleeding in Robert's brain and told him that he had suffered a stroke in part of his brain stem.
"They basically told me I would never be able to walk again without assistance, much less run,” Martinez said.
Recovery was long, painful and scary for a guy who was just 33-years old at the time.
After his stroke, Martinez set three goals for himself: to fully regain his sight, to walk, and eventually to run.
"I figured after I get those three things done, I’d be able to do anything,” Martinez said.
For six months, Martinez pushed himself toward those goals with help from therapists and a patient Jennifer. Their relationship had only started two months prior. Still, she stayed by his side every day and through every hospital visit.
“I just knew in my heart that the right thing was to stick by him," she said. "You can’t leave somebody when they’re going through their hardest moment.”
With Jennifer's support, Martinez was back at work within six months. Two years later, he blew past doctors' expectations and ran the Los Angeles Marathon.
"What helped me out is the fact that I was fit," Martinez said. "The fact that I was healthy. I think that helped me recover a lot quicker."
Martinez didn't stop there. He kept running and finished several half marathons. He also took up martial arts – Muy Thai, Krav Maga and boxing, to help with his rehab.
In time, that led him to 9Round, where he now works out and coaches others.
People like Will Tweed who are just getting to know Martinez are astonished by his backstory.
"My dad recently had a stroke too, and he’s recovering," Tweed said. "So we started connecting and every day I just come for them."
"I’ve gone through a journey," Martinez said. "And I like to tell my members about my journey. I like to motivate them, I like to inspire them. I would like them to see what I’ve gone through, to know that whatever they’re going through in life, they can still work out. They can still do it.”
Now May, Martinez is celebrating three important anniversaries: the three-month opening of 9Round Coppell, 20 years since his stroke – from which he has almost completely recovered– and 12 years of marriage to that woman who never left his side, Jennifer. She still plays a supportive role – no longer as just a girlfriend, but as a wife and co-owner of their business.
"I really think that fighting mentality of never give up is one of the things that helps," Jennifer said of her husband's remarkable comeback.