By Francesca Normile
Ruth Zukerman, one of the three co-founders of FlyWheel, currently has her hands full, training indoor cyclists between Manhattan and the East End, something she has become passionate about since taking her first cycling class in 1997.
“I was in the midst of a divorce when I started, and it literally got me through that part of my life,” she says. “Something about the movement of the wheel and the whole motion it takes you through was incredibly cathartic for me.”
Zukerman also notes the addictive nature of the sport, and how the feeling of an endorphin high combined with a sense of emotional recovery is so powerful that most people, herself included, cannot just ride once.
In her career as a cycling instructor, Zukerman transfers her personal knowledge of the potential cathartic experience that can come from a ride, to her students. Her passion lies in-between the act of cycling itself and in being a cycling instructor, spreading the addiction. From the playlists she compiles to what she says into the mic to pump her class up for a particularly strenuous climb, Zukerman aims to inspire.
“So much of the success of the class is the instructor’s playlist. Mine are very eclectic,” explains Zukerman. “Some are really high energy songs, of course, and then sometimes I’ll even throw a Neil Young song in there. I just try to find what inspires me, because that is what will inspire everyone else.”
Zukerman continues to describe what she has found the importance and power of the music to be, saying, “Whether it’s the lyrics of the song that might hit an emotional chord, or the energy in a particular song each time the chorus plays, one is motivated to push. The music becomes a powerful motivator.”
After a class, Zukerman is smiling and drenched in sweat, saying goodbye to all of her endorphin pumped students. It seems as though what would exhaust most actually fuels Zukerman, giving her more energy and enthusiasm. She pulls her blue bandana off from around her forehead and wipes the sweat off her face, laughing. She grabs a water bottle and gets ready to teach her next class which is starting in only ten minutes.
Because Zukerman finds emotional solace and strength in the exercise, she is not only keeping herself in incredible physical health, but in peak mental condition, too.
“Just like cycling was cathartic for me when I started, it is cathartic for me now on a daily basis,” says Zukerman. “And I’ll try to bring that [to my class]. I’ll talk to my class about releasing something as we ride — some anger, some bad thing they are holding onto — saying, ‘Alright in this 30 second sprint I want you to release something, just push it out on this one and let it go.’ And when it’s over, it’s not just an endorphin high, but also a peace and calmness that puts things into perspective.”
Zukerman elaborated on how important she feels it is to be able to provide other people with an opportunity to transfer negative energy into something positive— essentially to heal themselves—through cycling. From her first class in 1997, Zukerman said she felt a strong urge to be up there as an instructor herself.
Prior to instructing cycling, Zukerman spent 20 years instructing various work-out classes. After having children, however, she stopped teaching. Now that she is back in the game, providing cycling classes and immersing herself entirely in the sport and the instruction of it, she feels incredibly passionate about it.
“I used to be a dancer, and that was my passion back then,” explained Zukerman. “But now, cycling is definitely my passion. There is such a peace of mind I find in it that is so unique.”