Meet the Corporate Lawyer Turned Insta-Famous Fitness Guru
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because she says odds were meant to be willed into submission.
By Matt Foley
Mediocrity was not an option in the Arzon household. Whether it was high school debate competitions, applying to law school, running ultramarathons or, now, leading what Robin Arzon calls a “wellness revolution,” her goal has remained the same.
“If I don’t go to bed every night feeling like I can bang on my chest and scream from a rooftop that ‘I am a savage queen,’ the day wasn’t worth it,” says Arzon. “Greatness is the lens through which I operate. There is nothing else.”
That proclamation may sound dramatic to most mere mortals, but listening to the vice president of fitness programming at Peloton — the latest cultlike fitness company hoping to globalize its brand of cycling mania — leaves little doubt that Arzon isn’t spinning her wheels. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that our interview takes place 10 minutes after my first Peloton experience — a 6:00 a.m. “Tabata Ride” that ranks as Peloton’s most challenging offering. Exhausted and exhilarated in the way that only physical exertion delivers, I work to regain feeling in my legs while Arzon sips green tea, excitedly explaining how a daughter of immigrants ditched corporate law to become an ultramarathon-running, New York Times best-selling author and ambassador for major lifestyle brands like Adidas. The short answer? Years of self-discovery and a harrowing hostage situation taught Arzon to never give into her fears. “I insert myself into uncomfortable situations every single day,” she tells OZY. “Any risk feels small when you’ve had a gun to your head.”
A lot of the clichés are true. You really do want to live each day like it’s your last.
Arzon, 35, grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of Cuban and Puerto Rican parents who shared a tenacious work ethic. While her lawyer father and doctor mother expected her to excel in the classroom, sports were an afterthought. “I was an honor roll kid, student government kid,” says Arzon. “Only as an adult did I realize that I could redefine myself.”
In 2005, while attending law school at Villanova University, Arzon entered a 10K race on a whim — and never looked back. Still, when she returned to New York City (her B.A. is from NYU), running played second fiddle to her legal career. Eventually, though, her running obsession took over. “I really enjoyed being a lawyer, but my days became bifurcated,” says Arzon. “I was literally counting down the minutes until I could run.”
In 2012, Arzon quit her job, giving her ample time to run, only she realized she’d lost sight of a long-ago promise she’d made to herself. Ten years earlier, at a wine bar in Manhattan’s East Village, Arzon was among 40 patrons taken hostage by a gunman — and the one chosen as his line of communication to the police outside. Soaked in kerosene with a gun and lighter held to her head, Arzon talked the man down long enough for two fellow hostages to wrestle him to the ground as officers stormed in and seized her assailant. Her takeaway? “A lot of the clichés are true,” Arzon says of the near-death experience. “You really do want to live each day like it’s your last.”
Determined to reinvent herself in a way that fed, rather than stifled, her passion, she created a new life as a running coach, ultramarathoner and cycling instructor. According to Kelly Baez, a fitness and wellness psychologist, choices like Arzon’s decision to embrace her inner athlete can have a larger impact than might be anticipated. “We always hear about the benefits of fitness being weight loss and physical health, but there’s a mental aspect,” says Baez. “Whether that’s reducing anxiety or increasing productivity, fitness is key.”
Beyond the regulars who frequent Peloton’s lone studio, in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, most riders engage via virtual classes. Unlike its cycling competitors, Peloton is a fitness program, technology platform and a hardware company rolled into one. Peloton sells stationary bicycles with high-definition monitors, allowing riders to take any class live or on demand. In other words, it’s the perfect training evolution for our modern times. “[At-home training options] are becoming more popular because people’s attention spans become shorter,” says April Sutton, a fitness expert and stuntwoman based in Chicago. “The time that we have to work out is decreasing — or at least most people think that’s the case.”
But whether you tune in digitally or join a group session, one thing is certain: Arzon’s class — perfectly choreographed to the tunes of Rick Ross, Disclosure, DMX and Dillon Francis — will kick your ass. And be highly addictive. But, as someone with little tolerance for force-fed motivational jargon, I found plenty to dislike about the in-studio experience. Peloton’s posh studio is the perfect club for nonathlete millennials who want to feel like they’re part of a team. Truly, it felt like a sorority mixer where participants seemed more focused on having their attendance — and stylish activewear — noted than on improving their performance. The fact that the “gym” is also a television production studio doesn’t help matters. All that said, I emerged a convert.
Arzon is so sincere in her quest for badassery that it’s impossible not to be sucked into her exuberant pursuit of self-improvement. Especially when you learn that in 2014, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. A life-threatening hurdle for some was viewed by Arzon as a small bump in the road. She logs 70–90 miles a week and continues to run ultramarathons; running the 2,700 miles across the United States is on her bucket list.
If we are in fact witnessing a wellness revolution, Arzon seems ready to lead the charge. She’s working on her second book (her first, Shut Up and Run, came out in 2016), geared toward showing others how to take back their lives. “My biggest life mission is teaching people how to pound on their chest and take up more space,” she says.