Physical activity has always been part of Ruth Zukerman’s life. When Zuckerman was 8, her mother enrolled her in her first dance class. She dreamed of becoming a professional dancer, but by her mid-20s, she realized that wasn’t going to happen. She knew she needed to find another way to incorporate exercise into her life, but aerobic and step classes bored her. Then she took an indoor cycling class — the rest is fitness history.
Zukerman became an avid spin student and then a sought-after NYC cycling instructor (I have taken several of her classes and she lives up to the hype). At 48 years old, Zukerman followed her entrepreneurial spirit and co-founded spin studio chain SoulCycle. A few years later, she left that partnership and co-founded spin studio chain Flywheel. Now 60, Zukerman is adding author to her list of accomplishments. Her book, Riding High: How I Kissed SoulCycle Goodbye, Co-Founded Flywheel, and Built the Life I Always Wanted, released October 2018, shares her story of how perseverance and trusting her gut led her to business success and a life she loves.
Here she shares a few insights with The Fine Line.
What about spinning drew you in?
After my very first spin class, I had renewed energy along with a sense of empowerment and a better perspective. It all happened in 45 minutes. I was in the midst of the trauma of my divorce, and the class was cathartic for me. There was this phenomenon that took place through the collective sound of the spinning wheels, the inspiring playlist, and the ability to close my eyes and be transported even though the bike went nowhere. I left each class feeling like I can get through this.
As a spinner myself, I sometimes find myself crying in class. Is that weird?
No! I often hear about riders crying during class, and it serves as a huge compliment. It means that they trusted me enough to let me lead them, allowing the riders to let go and feel whatever came their way. Whether it’s the music or the exertion or both, the experience becomes transforming, and riders leave the class inspired and ready to take on the challenges of the day.
What do you say to women who have never taken a spin class and think they are too old to learn?
The beauty of spinning is that you can never be too old. It is the safest form of low-impact cardio exercise. As we get older and have more ailments and injuries the “bike to nowhere” presents very little chance of injury.
You had a difficult few years dealing with the death of your father, end of your marriage, and dissolving of your business partnership. How did you channel that sad stuff and move forward, rather than use these setbacks as reasons to give up?
In the face of each of these incredibly difficult challenges, I seemed to have an enormous amount of strength that I didn’t even know I had. I found it essential to spend a certain amount of time sitting with the “sad stuff” and not acting too quickly in an attempt to get through it. These events take time to process, before we can figure out what’s next. Taking care of myself and allowing some empathy in went a long way. It enabled me to dip my toes in the water again slowly.
What also helped me move forward was being open-minded. If I hadn’t had a curiosity about what was going on in the spin room in my local gym, I never would have embarked on my path that led to starting two national companies based on the indoor cycling experience.
How do you balance business, motherhood, and taking care of yourself?
I have been a single mother since my twin girls were 6 years old. I had no choice but to figure out how I was going to support my daughters and myself. I basically had to start a new life at age 38, and it certainly caused me moments of low energy and little patience.
The whole concept of “doing it all” has always been unrealistic to me. But I do know that as women, we need to take care of ourselves before we can do anything for anyone else. I tell my riders this all the time. It’s the only way we can truly show up for our kids or our work. Selfish is no longer a negative word.
What do you do to relax and really take care of yourself?
Taking a bath is one of my favorite ways to relax my muscles and disconnect from the world. I also love to get hooked on a Netflix series and relish every episode.
Why did you write the book?
I wanted to write a very raw and honest account of my life. I hope that by sharing my story, I can let others know that they are not alone in their own challenges. Writing the book was my opportunity to take what I do on the bike — inspire, support, and empower people — to a much bigger audience.
What are three takeaways you hope women get from hearing your story?
1 . Women have many opportunities to reinvent themselves at any age.
2. Trust your gut instincts. Don’t second-guess yourself!
3. Never underestimate the power of human connection and community.