Sharing the Stage: Ilana Brizel’s Story

This blog is all about my memories passed and with those memories comes the amazing people who helped me to create them. The last few years, a lot of my best memories revolve around this fitness world I have found myself planted in and the people there to support, push and cheer. Well today I’d like to recognize one of them, as this person has been nothing but encouraging from the first moment we met. Whether its organizing a chant at my community ride, cheering me me on from 5th ave at mile 22 of the marathon, or sharing her latest SoundCloud find, this woman has been there! 

About a year ago, Ilana was asked to write her spin story and how she went from rider to instructor. It was supposed to be posted publicly by the spin studio where we met but par for their very brown and ugly course, nothing ever came of it and Ilana’s beautiful story went untold. Until now… 

Please enjoy this inspiring journey…

From Rider to Instructor – My Spin Journey

By Ilana Brizel 

In my mind – the overcrowded, overstimulated private corner of a Jewish born-and-bred Upper East Side gal – I have filed my “Spin Journey” into a folder quietly labeled “Love Stories”.

In its entirety (and by definition) it is certainly not the prettiest folder, but I liken my spin Journey to one of those mid-century, New York City based love stories – romantic and whimsical, Frank Sinatra playing in the background. It’s the kind of love story that shocks you by awakening an intense passion for something you never knew existed; it conjures optimism, keeps your soul young, and opens your heart. Reminiscent of when Tony first met Maria – West Side Story, Hell’s Kitchen, 1961 – and he was suddenly liberated and uninhibited, belting high C’s and swinging from rusty fire escapes. Picture Holly Golightly, floating down 5th Avenue – Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Upper East Side, also 1961 (albeit a slightly different part of town) – so effortless, so young and free…

Ok, ok, perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but I’M SERIOUS! Spinning has burrowed its way through my concrete-jungle exterior and cozied up by the fire it sparked in my soul, preparing for a long hibernation with a case of vintage red. 

I’m shaking my head and giggling, because by now you must be thinking that I’m crazy. Allow me to explain…

For the first 25 years of my life, I was overweight. Of course I was insecure about it, but it never defined me. I shoved my admittance to the back of my head, but it still hovered over me like a clichéd dark cloud. I simply just never found anything that inspired me to make a change. I allowed myself to accept the fallacy that this is just how I was, how I am, and how I would always be. This disturbs me to say, but I was settling, conceding, not “fighting the good fight,” and not even realizing I had the strength to even try.

Then a cycling studio opened two blocks from my apartment. I tried Bailey’s class, and everything changed.

This place felt different from the moment I walked in. Before clipping into the pedals or adjusting the bike settings, before having that internal debate between the 2lbs or the 3lbs weights, before tightening the spin shoes, or choosing your bike number, the energy the moment you enter the studio is the first thing that hits you. In the world of boutique fitness – a tangled web of premium pricing and conformity, where the booties are as high and tight as the ponytails – This place felt different. It accepts and supports. It pushes and compels. It moves and motivates. The riders around you become your fit-family the second you’re all clipped in. Music up, lights down, press go, and don’t stop. The beat drives your legs, your heart pumps with the bass, and you lose yourself in the push. It is, by far, the most empowering feeling. Dripping in sweat and grasping for oxygen, I realized this was it. THIS was my change. Spin became the gateway drug to the rest of my fitness journey.

I began strength training, fell in love with Pilates Reformer, developed a masochistic addiction to the stair master, and of course kept spinning daily. I taught myself all about nutrition and food science. I lost 40 pounds and 10% body fat. I wore a bikini for the first time and finally felt comfortable in shorts. I was freed from that hovering dark cloud of literal weight. Spinning changed my approach to fitness and my entire lifestyle. That alone to me is something so monumental, there is not enough gratitude in the world I could conjure. It’s overwhelming to think about.

Fast-forward to January, 2016. I’d just moved back to Manhattan after living in Queens for about 10 months (don’t ask…or ask, the story won’t disappoint) and naturally I’m back on the UES. I was slightly disoriented, regaining some lost footing, but quickly rebuilding strength – of course with the help of Spinning. Like a moth to a flame, I find myself in Rebecca’s class, and I. am. not. missing. one. beat. I AM BACK. *snap snap* It was my Tony and Maria moment, skipping down 5th Avenue – I was found again. For the first time ever, the “spinmotional song” Rebecca plays every class – the one that’s supposed to make you feel your feelings – got me, and I totally started to cry. Right there, on bike 9…literal tears. Then it came to me. What if I became an instructor? With the affect spin continues to have on me, perhaps this way I could scratch the surface of repaying everything spin has given me. And maybe…just maybe…I would inspire someone else’s change…

So, I fought for it – certifications, trainings, Epsom salt baths, too many playlists. Then I did it – through a pulled hamstring and the tightest hip-flexors known to man. Now here I am. The instructor who plays hip-hop and has an aversion to “recovery jogs”. After all…we came to work, we came to sweat, but most of all we came to ride.

It is a wildly intense feeling when you are responsible for someone else’s work-out. The connection between instructor and rider fuses very quickly, energies symbiotic, and you are physically bound for 45 minutes. It is equal parts empowering and humbling – so humbling.

I went from overweight and stagnant, to living a healthy and fitness-focused lifestyle, to being a freaking fitness instructor. I owe it all to spin – you are the spark that ignited the fire within me, and continues to keep it aflame.

Now, all that hovers over me is…how soon is too soon to replay that remix of Closer?

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