A post shared by Emily Abbate (@emilyabbate) on Jul 7, 2017 at 5:13am PDT
Sweat dripped down my face as Beyoncé blared overhead. My cadence was off-beat. As my cheeks grew red, I lost my words, looking out in front of me to an empty room. Then it happened: I broke down. Overcome with emotion, I began to wonder if I’d ever be able to get this whole Spin instructor thing down. I wondered if maybe I was making a mistake.
You see, at the beginning of the year, I lost my full-time job as a fitness editor when they shuttered the magazine I was working for. I hit the ground running, navigating the world of full-time freelance writing and editing, but I had so many questions. What would be next move? What would be my best move? Just over a month later, I found myself in talks with a cycling studio called Swerve I’d been going to for years. As a certified personal trainer and run coach, I thought being a Spin instructor could be right up my alley. And at this particular studio, where teamwork and community are key, it felt like an opportunity that was too good to pass up.
So I did it. I rallied up the courage, stopped asking myself “what am I doing?”, and auditioned. In that first stint, it immediately felt right. I got the sense that this would be a place where I could connect with others. This would be a place where I’d take on my next adventure. This would be a place where I could learn about myself. But little did I know at that moment just how much I’d learn.
Here’s the thing. I’m a perfectionist. I’d also never taught a Spin class. I live my life by the mantra that all it takes is all you’ve got. Getting the call that they wanted me to train to become an instructor, having never done it before, was enthralling. The training program, though? It was grueling. For give-or-take six weeks, I learned everything from proper bike setup and how to structure a playlist to form cuing and how to command a room.
At Swerve, the class is divided into three teams competing against one another. You have a couple of different ways to earn extra points for your team, via sprinting past the beat of the music and “Swerving to the beat” (that’s holding the RPM – or revolutions per minute). Both of those involve using a special technology that’s unique to the studio, all while cuing everything from bike positioning to cadence. It’s . . . a lot. But it’s a lot of fun, too. The team aspect fosters togetherness. Being part of a community of athletes like the one at Swerve meant that I had to put in my time. I had to learn all of the special tech’s in and outs so that I could best lead a class. (Have I mentioned I’d never done this before?)
I was giving it all I had. Hour after hour, whether I was working with the studio’s head of training or talking to myself in an empty studio, I was learning. But still, I was missing cues. Despite dedicating so much time to this new skill, I kept feeling like I was failing. I kept feeling overwhelmed. I kept feeling . . . stuck.
I remember that breakdown day in the studio like it was yesterday. I removed myself from the bike. Looking down at my bright red leggings, I had my moment. I thought of an interview I had done with Olympian Dawn Harper-Nelson about a year earlier. On the phone, we talked about her spill at the World Athletic Championships in Beijing. She told me about how she felt ruined after tripping over that. She was overcome. Despite wanting to run and hide from the media, she persisted. We talked about the lesson she learned that’s stuck with me: in times of difficulty, it’s important to have your moment. You don’t work hard to fail. You work hard because you’re passionate. You work hard because you care. So when things don’t go your way, when mistakes happen, have your moment to appreciate the frustration and how you feel. Then, reflect. She encouraged told me to ask myself: why is it that the mistake happened? What is it that you can learn, and how will you best move forward?
For the zillionth time, I confronted my reality: Spin was something I’d never done. Being good at this was going to take time. Just because I wasn’t perfect off the bat didn’t mean that I couldn’t be great. It didn’t mean that I didn’t have potential. It didn’t mean I wasn’t working hard.
So I began to accept the mishaps. Instead of getting choked up when things went wrong, I grew to appreciate the chaos and learn how to incorporate small flukes into the swing of things. I began to realize that the small errors I was making may have been blaring to me but unnoticeable to everyone else. I started to realize that in time, with practice, I was getting into the swing of things.
One day, everything clicked. My demo ride, where you invite a bunch of good friends to hit the saddle and squad up for a little practice ride, was the next day. I set up in the studio by myself and ran through my entire playlist. By the fifth song, no mess-ups, no frustration, just this feeling of accomplishment. And the next day, in front of 24 close friends, I did it. I lead my first class, nearly bursting into tears the second the final song came to a close. Surrounded with love, I’d done something I wondered if I was even capable of doing in the first place. And the best part? I did it well.
A slew of classes in, I’m proud of myself. I’m proud to report that I haven’t burned down the studio. I’m proud to report that I encouraged my mom to take her first Spin (slash boutique fitness class). I’m proud to report that I am part of an amazing team. I’m proud to report that I’ve learned to love myself, flaws and all. It was never that I wasn’t good enough to do this. It was I’ve come to learn that during the hard times when you want to give up, you’ve gotta dig deep. Challenges emerge in life because we are capable of handling them. We are capable of the growth necessary for moving forward. Now that I’ve risen to this one, I can’t wait to see what’s next.