Females in Fitness: Coaches and inspirations for fitness, life, and beyond
May 11, 2022
I remember hearing the encouraging shouts of Cody Risgby’s 30 minute Pop Ride mixed with the music of Dua Lipa and Beyonce of my mom’s Peloton spin class coming from the basement. Curiously straining to hear what words they were saying, I pretended to have to walk past the basement door, but the voices remained muffled.
One of these instructors, Robin Arzón, is arguably the most familiar face of Peloton. However, Arzón was not an athlete growing up, for she graduated magna cum laude from New York University and would later pursue a career in corporate law for seven years after attending Villanova University School of Law.
The start of her passion for fitness, however, has a scary and unexpected source. When Arzon was twenty years old and attending college in New York City, a gunman with three pistols and a sword entered the East Village wine bar she was visiting with her friends, took hostages, and doused them in kerosene. Grabbed by the hair with a lighter held to her face, Arzón was used by the gunman as he negotiated and communicated with the police.
It was this unforgettable, traumatic event that changed Arzón’s perspective and approach to her life which almost came to an end. “Every day when we wake up after something that has happened to us, we have a choice. We can be a victim or we can be victorious. And I chose to be the latter. I chose to be the hero in my own story,” she told CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell. “I was able to go from a feeling of powerlessness to powerful.”
In addition to this traumatic event, Arzón was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, despite her healthy habits. But, through being the hero of her own story and telling herself mantras like “Turn ‘why me’ into ‘try me,’’ she put on a pair of running shoes and now has twenty-seven marathons and seven ultramarathons under her belt, including ultramarathons. In addition to being the Vice President and Head Instructor at Peloton, a new mom, and the New York Times bestselling author of Shut Up and Run and Strong Mama, Arzón is, above all, an inspiration who truly lives out what she tells those who take her classes.
From her Tabata rides on the bike to her upper body strength classes, I have taken countless classes with Arzón, knowing that every time I come back to her, I not only will feel empowered, but I will feel myself getting stronger with every rep or pedal stroke. She has taught me to fight through soreness, obstacles, and fears, for she often asks “Do you want it more than you fear it?
As a result, I can now take her advanced classes without fear and instead with courage. She is known to wear bright yellow for classes that are particularly challenging, and I find myself clicking on those classes much more often now compared to before. Arzón told CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell that “I realized that I’ve survived 100 percent of my worst days, and I’m still here.” Even when a class becomes extremely difficult, I always push to the finish, knowing that I have survived my own challenges and pains before, so I can conquer whatever may come next.”
The first strength class I ever took with Peloton was taught by Jess Sims, who grew to be another one of my favorite instructors. A strength, cardio, bootcamp instructor, Jess Sims has always loved being physical and greatly emphasizes the importance of the gift of movement. Being an athlete has been a part of Sims’ life since childhood. She played multiple sports as a child, spanning from lacrosse to soccer to basketball. After being a captain for three different sports in high school, Sims became team captain for Trinity College’s basketball team for three years.
Like Arzón, Sims’ professional life did not start out with a focus on fitness. With the importance of helping others being strongly emphasized during her childhood, Sims’ decided on a career in education. After earning her masters, she worked at Teach for America in Houston and worked her way up from being a teacher to a principal at Harlem Village Academies.
But amidst her love of teaching, her passion for fitness still remained. As a result, her “classrooms” became fitness studios, and she became an instructor at Peloton in 2018. From her love of donuts, which inspires her phrase of glazed donut look which describes what one should look like during a class, to talking about her adorable dogs Sienna Grace and Shiloh, Sims makes everyone she is teaching smile while profusely sweating at the same time.
One of my favorite phrases that Sims often repeats in her classes is “We don’t have to, we get to,” which means that when we exercise or simply move our bodies, it is a choice and a privilege. To be able to grow and better our physical and mental strength and health is a gift that no one should take for granted. Her emphasis on this appreciation has completely changed my outlook on working out. It is not a requirement or something I am forced to do. Rather, it is an active choice I can make and a special opportunity for me to push myself and become stronger. Sims even gave me a shoutout twice during her live classes!
Whether it is Arzón’s bold outfits and fierce attitude or Sims’ smile and love for 50 Cent, I can rely on either one to help aid me in furthering my athleticism. It does not matter if one is a high school athlete, working adult, or simply someone who has yet to start their fitness journey. Peloton is truly for everyone.
What started as muffled voices from my basement has now become clear words of determination and affirmation that I have learned to always say and remind myself of, whether I am training for crew or studying for a test. The inspiration that Arzón, Sims, and all of the other female instructors at Peloton have given me motivates and pushes me to hopefully become an inspirational female figure for someone else through working hard, maintaining a positive attitude, and having the heart to coach and improve others.