Bradley Rose Almost Quit Fitness for Good — Until He Joined Peloton
When Bradley Rose joined the Peloton family a year ago, members quickly picked up on a few distinct qualities that set the cycling instructor apart: an unmatched enthusiasm for animal metaphors, the ability to make peddling to classical music seem perfectly appropriate, and the infectious energy of a caffeine connoisseur (for what it's worth, he discussed the perks of nitro brew coffee within the first 30 seconds of the interview). But there's a lot to Rose's story that hasn't been said or that would be impossible to discern from his ultra-bubbly on-screen persona. And while dedicated fans may have heard the fitness pro briefly reference his health struggles during a tough push or calming cooldown, they may be surprised to know the full extent of Rose's journey.
His Path to Fitness Was Not a Straight Road
Born on the east coast of England in the rural county of Norfolk, Rose had a passion for performing early on. A skilled athlete with a particular aptitude for cricket, Rose spent his time off the field studying the art of acting. At 23, he made the leap across the pond to New York City in hopes of pursuing his dream in front of the camera.
"My parents have always been very liberal in the sense of 'where do you want to go? What do you want to do? Try different things,'" says Rose. "So that's always been sort of open to me. And I wanted to be a ton of different things — I wanted to be a soccer player, I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to be an actor, and I think all the chips fell into the right place at the right time as they did for me."
While Rose did find success in film and television roles over the course of his first few years in America, he saw an opportunity to fill up his downtime and supplement his income by capitalizing on his other passion. "I'd been very lucky to have a career as an actor and I fell into fitness when a friend opened a gym in New York," he says. "And obviously there's so much free time with acting — that's the crazy thing, your schedule is never set in stone and you can actually go for a month or two without booking work."
Rose's friend offered him the chance to channel his athletic experience into a teaching position at the gym and he said he quickly caught the fitness bug. "I'd never been the group fitness type of person, but as soon as I went in there and was on the other side, I just fell in love with it — the energy, the people, the camaraderie," he says. "That was sort of the big step into it."
While continuing to audition and book acting jobs, Rose began ramping up his fitness schedule, starting at a boutique studio and eventually joining the team at Rumble Boxing. It was there, in early 2019, that his life took a drastic, unexpected turn.
An Unexpected Setback
"It was just a normal day, you wouldn't think anything about it," he recalls. "I woke up, went into work, and halfway through a class, it was like everything slowed down. It felt like things were shutting off — kind of like when you go in and out of a dream state. I then just sort of blacked out."
When Rose regained consciousness a few moments later, some of his students hadn't even clocked the incident. "Because it's so dark and loud, people didn't notice," he says. "I'm on the stage and I get up and I'm like, 'what the hell's happened?'" As soon as Rose ran out of the room, it hit him: blinding pain. "It was literally the worst headache you could ever imagine," he says.
It wasn't until a few excruciating and frustrating weeks later that Rose learned what had happened in the room that day: he'd suffered a stroke.
"I went into the back room where the trainers got ready, and I just passed out," says Rose. "It had been a 6 a.m. class, so I fell asleep and then woke up around 9:30 a.m. with no idea what was going on and still in the worst pain I've ever been in."
Rose had an audition that afternoon, so he tried to rally. "I just thought I was fine," he says. "I thought I was just tired and stressed out. But as I was walking down the street, I couldn't remember where I was. And I couldn't remember what I was doing."
By the time the fitness studio contacted Rose's wife, social media coach Sophia Parra, things had gotten worse. As soon as Rose picked up her call, she sensed the severity of the situation. "She was like, 'something's seriously not right,'" he says. "I couldn't even tell her where I was. She was like, 'tell me what's around you' and I described the Flatiron Building. I was like, 'I just don't feel right, I feel something's not good.'"
Rose eventually made it home and went straight to bed, but when he woke up the next day, his head was still brutally aching. Parra insisted he see a doctor — but the visit proved less than helpful. "We went to get a checkup and they were like, 'just take a few days off work, you're basically fine,'" he says. "So I did that. I was like, 'yes, I must be stressed out, I must be tired. And then two days later, I'd convinced myself that I was feeling a lot better."
But Rose wasn't better — in fact, he seemed to be getting worse. He went back to the fitness studio and soon began slurring his words. "I couldn't remember the class plan that I had designed and I couldn't remember friends' names who were in there, like things were just getting progressively worse and harder to deal with," he says. "If I sat there for a long time, I could think and things would come to me, but in the moment, I was awful. My friends literally just came up and said, 'you need to get out of here right now.'"
Rose went straight from the studio to a different medical office to get a second opinion. This time, his symptoms set off alarm bells for the new doctor who ordered an MRI and administered a questionnaire to determine whether Rose had in fact suffered a stroke.
"They give you a form that asks you simple things like, 'what animal is this?' and I even got one of the animals wrong, which is laughable," Rose recalls. "I'll never forget the doctor pointed to a picture and was like, 'what's this?' and I was like, 'it's a hippo.' My wife was sitting next to me and she was just like, 'no, it's a giraffe.' I can't really explain it but I could have sworn I was looking at a hippo."
"You don't think something this big has happened to you — you think it's just a little headache, you're just having a bad day," he says. Compounding that disbelief, is of course the fact that Rose was so young — just 33 at the time. As it turns out, while many people still associate strokes with older people, research shows an increasing number of young adults (under age 45) are experiencing them. While there are a variety of factors contributing to this phenomenon (including everything from lifestyle habits to inherited conditions), Rose had no idea he could be at risk.
"I didn't have any pre-existing issues," he says. "I thought I was healthy, I thought I was fine. I was a little bit tired, but everyone in New York is, right?" (Related: Why Are More Young People Having Strokes?)
What Rose did find out over the course of the agonizing weeks that followed the initial incident was that he actually had a congenital heart defect called atrial septal defect (ASD), defined as a hole in the wall separating the heart's top two chambers. While the condition itself doesn't always result in serious health issues, it can lead to complications such as heart failure, irregular heartbeats, or, as in Rose's case, a stroke. But that first day, when the debilitating headache struck, he had no idea what could have caused him to lose consciousness — he just knew something wasn't right.
The diagnostic tests revealed that Rose had in fact suffered a stroke and he'd need surgery to repair the damage. The news was shocking enough, but the price tag for the life-saving treatment was nearly as devastating.
"The doctors were like, 'this is gonna cost you about $200,000-$300,000 to get you fixed," he says. "I'm very fortunate that being from England, I managed to get back on the NHS [the country's publicly funded National Health Service], which is, in my opinion, the greatest thing ever. One problem with the fitness industry is that they need to start offering health care to their employees, and none of them do unless they're a big company — they all get around it with the stipulation that employees aren't working full-time hours. Some companies have a health care option, but it's so crazily high. And when I was a 30-year-old kid, I was like, 'I'm healthy, I'm fine, nothing's going wrong with me right now, I don't need to get health care. And that was a realization of how screwed you can be."
The Long Road to Recovery
Despite Rose's doctors urging him against the international flight, he and his wife traveled back to England where he was able to redo the essential tests and undergo surgery to fix the damage and prevent future strokes.
"The doctor kind of explained it as like a little umbrella — they go up through your groin, and into your mouth, and then they plug the heart," says Rose. "When they were doing that, they found a second hole, so it was a little more invasive and a little more painful than they said it would be."
While stroke recovery varies from person to person, recuperation can take weeks, months, or even years — and in some cases, full recovery may never be possible, according to the CDC. "It's difficult to talk about it because everyone has a different reaction from a stroke," says Rose. "So for me to say to people who are disabled, 'you can start moving your body again,' they're just not gonna be able to. And it's hard listening to their stories of what they're going through and what they're dealing with and their own demons and their own problems."
Rose was fortunate to not suffer severe physical damage from the stroke aside from occasional tingling in his hands and shoulders, but the mental recuperation was — and continues to be — a major struggle. "They were like, 'you're going to get better mentally, but this could be anything from right now to three to four years' time,'" he says. "Like, 'you're going to keep learning new things, you're going to improve on certain aspects, and your brain's rewiring — but some bits may never come back.' It's been a process and memory was a huge thing that I struggled with. And obviously being an actor, it was bonkers — I struggled for the longest time memorizing lines. I'll never forget the first time I actually memorized lines, I just broke down crying. It felt gratifying."
The physical recovery may have required less effort, but Rose's doctors still weren't thrilled at the prospect of him returning to work in the fitness industry. "They cautioned against it," he says. "They were like, 'there are a lot of things you're probably not gonna be able to do again,' but they never said 'never.'"
Once Rose returned back to New York, he began dipping his toe back into fitness and acting, but going back to work definitely presented new challenges. "Other things started coming up, like I got hit with massive amounts of exhaustion," he says. "I went to the hospital a couple of times and they thought I had chronic migraines and vertigo. These things would suddenly randomly come on that I've never experienced. But I was just like, 'I'm gonna fight to do this.' Also monetary-wise, I was like, 'I don't want to be at the bank of mom and dad.' We had our life, we had our apartment, we had our dogs — that was a drive. It was also the drive inside myself like, 'I'm going to do this.'
Another Unexpected Turn — the COVID-19 Pandemic
Shortly after he returned to work, however, there was another unexpected turn of events: this time, a global COVID-19 pandemic. Concerned about the future, Rose and his wife packed up and went to stay with his mother-in-law in North Carolina. During that time, Rose took an acting job in upstate New York to film One Royal Holiday and that's when he got a call from an old friend in the fitness industry.
"I've known Cody [Rigsby] for a long time, that cheeky little man," Rose says about Peloton's breakout star and director of cycling. "He tried to get me to join like four years before — I think I have the claim to fame as the only person to turn him and Peloton down [editor's note: for the record, Adrian Williams also passed on his first Peloton offer!]. I was like, 'I'm gonna be a famous actor, Cody you can ride my coattails then darling!' But yeah, it was a coincidence — with the pandemic happening, I was like, 'I think I'm gonna have to drop out of group fitness. It was also a very toxic environment where people were just always angry, upset, annoyed. And I was kind of like, 'I can't deal with this, I've got to get out of this.' And the pandemic happened and I was moving out of New York and Cody was like, 'join us.' I was like, 'yeah, I'll send you an audition tape.'"
Rose had already made peace with the prospect of leaving the fitness industry altogether, so he wasn't too concerned with whether the Peloton opportunity would come through — but it did. Rose had landed a gig in Peloton's London studio, bringing him back to his roots, and in March 2021, he officially hit members' screens as one of the platform's funniest, most upbeat instructors (with a penchant for pop-punk and a soft spot for show tunes). "This company — and I'm not just saying this — everything is just good,'" he says. "The people are supportive and lovely, and the company really cares about each instructor, which feels like you're part of something."(Related: The Best Peloton Instructors to Match Your Workout Style)
Since joining the Peloton team last year, Rose has still kept the door open for acting opportunities, but for the first time in many years, he feels personally and professionally fulfilled in unprecedented ways — and he hopes his story will inspire others to persevere, even when the odds are stacked against them.
"I want to show people that you can have these awful things happen to you, but you can also come back from them," he says. " I think that's the biggest life lesson that I would ever try to give someone: whatever you're going through, I promise you, there's a way out.'"