Robin Arzón: I do love being a working mom, but it requires me to be the heavy sometimes, and really just be like, nope, that's not going to work for me. I'm not doing it. And, um, I've gotten comfortable with that.
Anna Sale: That came with parenthood?
Robin Arzón: That probably preceded parenthood. But it... [laughter] but, um, I'm glad it's something that I practiced before parenthood, because now it's, it's crucial.
This is Death, Sex & Money.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot, and need to talk about more.
I'm Anna Sale.
Robin Arzón [in recording]: Nothing in today's ride is meant to crush you.
This is what a Peloton class with instructor Robin Arzón sounds like.
Robin Arzón [in recording]: I want this ride to be a reflection of our value system. And I do believe that's rooted in love... and hustle.
That's Robin. One part woo-woo, one part drill sergeant.
She's an ultramarathoner who goes to Burning Man, who is big on mantras and intentions. And hat's what helped her transition from being a New York corporate attorney to a celebrity fitness instructor. And, as she told me when we talked on Zoom, how she determined the kind of home and family she wanted.
Robin Arzón: There was praying, there was manifesting, there was intentionality around collaboration and partnership, and what I want my home to look like. I did a vision board of specifics, like we live in a home that is light filled, and we have bookshelves and we get the Sunday Times. And, you know, I have a...
Anna Sale: Wait, tell me more, what else was on there?
RA: It was like I have a variety of teas that I can choose from. There was elements of like coziness, and beautiful modernity, and like, modern art, and it's literally what our house looks like now. Um, but I had a vision.
I'm not a Peloton-er myself, but I do happen to know some, including one who got teary when telling me how Robin's pep talks have transformed her life and what she thought was possible. I wanted to know more about this person and the source of these pep talks. And we thought you might too during this month of annual pep talking.
Robin is 40, and a new mom. And over the last decade, she's completed feats of endurance around the world, including 27 marathons and 12 ultramarathons.
But she wasn't always a big athlete. When she was growing up in Philadelphia, she said she wasn't comfortable moving and engaging with her body at all.
RA: I don't even think I identified as in my body, really. I was petrified of gym class. I mean I would, I don't consider myself a particularly an anxious or nervous person, but when I identify with feelings of anxiety, it is the younger version of myself, like, being picked for kickball or something. Like that is truly like my worst nightmare. And, um, in terms of, like, living in my body, it was really only, you know, moments of getting my period and talking about that with my mom, or, um, you know, initial sexual experiences or something, but I, but it was never from a place of empowerment. It could have been done so much better, and I plan to do better with my daughter.
AS: You said you didn't even feel like you were in your body. Um, what brought you into your body?
RA: I never understood what it felt like to physically stand in one's power until I started running. And I never understood that confidence is a, is directly related, for me, to literally just physical embodiment.
AS: And that was after when you were in college and after the experience of being in the hostage situation, when you started running?
RA: Right, yeah. So I, I basically ran through trauma. I ran through being held at gunpoint.
When Robin was 20, in the summer of 2002, she was at a wine bar in New York's East Village, when an armed man entered and held Robin and 40 other people hostage. He shot three people, and used Robin as a human shield while communicating with police. He eventually surrendered after he was subdued by two other restaurant goers.
RA: It was a year after it had happened. And I had felt, for an inexplicable reason, to physically run. It needed to, it felt like I was carrying a weighted vest or a backpack full of books, and I was in law school at the time. I actually have lots of very, very heavy law books but for some reason, I ran, I ran, I jogged to campus one morning and just started to iterate on that.
AS: Uh-huh. It's interesting to me it was a year after. Do, do you remember noticing besides the feeling like you had the weighted vest, were you aware of that in that year after that, that you were feeling... heavy?
RA: I was because it was, it was, I was in law school. I had the pressures of that. I was living, you know, away from my college friends. I was needing to revisit a lot of what had happened to me because the trial was coming up. And I was being interviewed again by prosecutors and defense attorneys. And what kind of was like, there was an initial obviously flurry of police investigation and things when it had happened. Then I, you know, had finished college at NYU, thought it would have put it all behind me, packed it away in a neat narrative, and then all these things started bubbling up again. I thought, oh my gosh, no, I'm still sitting with this. Like this lives with me. It lives in me. And I had to find a way to catalyze it, metabolize it.
AS: Do you remember where you went on that first run?
RA: I do. I went from my apartment, and it was a straight route, like a mile and a quarter, to my law school campus. And literally just ran, walked, jogged straight, like, into class.
AS: Oh, you went straight to class? [laughs]
RA: Like straight to class. It was, it was, it had made no sense. I think it was, I think I had like torts or something. I remember, but all the runs are one big memory. The first run isn't anything particularly amazing, except for the fact that it was the first one.
AS: Uh-huh. And when did you start to notice... you described connecting the idea of confidence being linked to what you were able to achieve when you were moving and exercising. Um, when did you start to notice that something was shifting in the way that you took up space, or willing to take up space?
RA: Literally, I would just go, okay, I'm going to go to that light at that intersection today and back, and just see how that goes. Um, the, and then I would think, okay, if I did that today, I can answer this question in class. Like, when I'm called upon, I'm going to give my opinion. I'm going to have that tough conversation with the guy I'm dating. I'm going to ask for this. And, it was in these small moments that I started to creep more and more into the light, Like, creep more and more into my power. And then when I started doing you know, races, 10Ks, half-marathons, and ultimately marathons, I would literally stand like in a power pose in front of the mirror, like with my hands on my hips and like bang on my chest, and be like, "Yup! You're the one. You're the one you've been waiting for. Nobody's saving you. You're saving yourself." And I had that conversation with myself all the time, and that confidence came from listening to myself enough where those whispers became roars.
Before Robin became a fitness instructor, she put that law degree to use. Robin graduated from law school in 2007, and moved back to New York to work at a corporate law firm, but she was still squeezing in her runs whenever she could.
RA: I was working 80 hour weeks, and I, I would often tell myself, I don't, I don't have time to run. I don't have time to do my workout. I have a partner calling me. I've got emails to send. I got a brief to write. I gotta, I gotta, I gotta, I gotta, and then I realized two things during that time that if I made it matter, I would make it happen. And that when I made it happen, I was better at every other area of my life. So, that's when I started to understand that it wasn't, instead of saying, "I don't have time," I could reclaim some of that, and no. Would I have have the luxury of a 60-minute run when all I had was 15 minutes? No, but instead of saying, "I don't have time for this or that," I flipped it, and I said, "I have time," like make it a positive forward thinking action. Something that takes you out of a feeling of inertia and into momentum. And sometimes that would literally be 10, 15, 20 minutes, the little bite-size pieces that I could claim for myself. Um, and when I, I felt like I was living in that inertia, um, telling myself it didn't matter, felt icky. And then I thought, "Oh, okay. Then that means it actually does matter, and I need to make it matter in order to make it happen."
AS: When you did that does this matter test, were you surprised to discover that some things that you were making time for actually didn't matter to you in the way you thought they might?
RA: Absolutely, like 90% of my social engagements. Back when I was a lawyer, um, you know, happy hours were very popular. Maybe they still are. I just don't go to them anymore.
AS: They don't matter! [laughs]
RA: This whole idea, this whole, like, post-work drinking culture was never really my thing, like the small talk at the bar. It was never really my vibe, but I felt that was how I could, the only way I can really network. And then I realized, oh, why don't I just invite them to things that I want to do? Instead of doing this stuff that I hate. So I started saying no to all that stuff, and this is when spin classes were starting to get more popular in New York City, and I thought, let me just invite clients to... maybe they want to go to a 7:00 AM spin class. Not all of them, some of them will, and those are my people. And that's, that became my networking.
AS: Hmm. And when you were going to drinking after work engagements and happy hours, was it out of a sense of, like, this is what you have to do to be successful in the career that I'm in? Or was it also, I'm a young person in New York City and I feel this energy about, you know, broadening the people I meet, you know, people I might date, et cetera?
RA: Oh I'm sure it was a little bit of both. And yeah, living in New York in your 20s is exhilarating, so it's not that I hated every social event, but I just found that was, that was the go-to. It was almost like a, like a social crutch for a lot of folks. And even like a planning committee or like the folks who were planning these things, they were putting a lot of money into very fancy post-work events that really just were standing around and drinking beers. And I thought this, like we're, we can do more than this. We can be more dynamic than this. So yeah, I changed that. I really started to change that when I was a lawyer.
AS: When you started noticing that you were having the thought of, like, maybe I want my life to be more spin class and less legal clients, was that a scary thing to first realize you were craving?
RA: It was terrifying, and it was even more terrifying to try to make sense of how I would even afford to live in New York, like how can I afford rent? I didn't have any illusions of going to the Olympics. I wasn't thinking I was going to be like a pro athlete, but I was counting down the hours every day until I could go for a run, go to the gym, go to spin class. And it, I was getting such joy just attending these workouts. And then when I started teaching at a local spin studio in New York City, I thought, "Oh my gosh, this is, this is like, for me, divine alignment." And I got my spin certification when I was still a lawyer simply out of curiosity 'cause I like school. And um, it was, when I realized that there has to be another way, and it, it started with a more existential question of, "Is okay okay? Like is just feeling okay why you are here? Like, you survived being held up at gunpoint. Are you now just going to exist? It can't be." So I had an urgency about my life, but I didn't know where to put that energy.
Coming up, Robin tells me more about leaving her legal career, and the uncertainty that came with it.
RA: In the beginning, it felt like... I have nothing to say, nothing to do. Nobody to ask. It was, it felt terrifying.
Robin’s words about inertia... and action... got us thinking about big change. And while she is a fitness instructor, her words feel applicable to all kinds of transition in life, and setting intentions for how we want this new year to look.
In our staff meeting last week in fact, we were talking about trying to be fed by possibility this year, while acknowledging that is a little tough when there is a lot of things to be afraid of, or constrained by, or unsettled by. I am tracking this on a day when preschool was cancelled because of a COVID exposure last week, for example. But I also know want to try to be in a better headspace to think about what could be possible.
And we are curious to know: what intentions are you setting for yourself this year? What are you hoping to change in your life? And what topics do you want to hear on this show as we head into 2022 together? Send us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, as you’re thinking about your intentions—if you need a little musical inspiration—I have a playlist for you. It is our Anthems of Change playlist, made up of songs you all told us have helped you through change. We’ll put a link to that in our show notes.
This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC. I'm Anna Sale.
Robin Arzón was 31 when she decided she wanted to leave her law career behind to pursue work in the wellness industry full-time, but that didn't happen overnight.
Robin Arzón: I added a 10 minute recurring calendar appointment to my schedule, and that time was protected. I think it was like every day at 8:45 or something. Give myself 10 minutes, and then 5 minutes to get into a nine o'clock meeting, and the, those 10 minutes, I would force myself to send an email, do a Google search, text a friend, text a contact, ask a question about something related to wellness. And I'm like, if I do this 365 times, and it actually ended up being two years of this, it's, something's going to land.
It was 2012, and while Robin was making corporate law money, and didn't have student loans, and wasn't spending much, she was still worried about making ends meet, and there was a lot she didn't know about her new line of work.
RA: When I first left my law firm, I was telling folks, you know, I'm a writer, I'm a journalist. I was pitching magazines, print publications, digital publications, anywhere, literally any, any, any place that was writing about sports and movement, and specifically, women in movement, I was pitching. And when I realized what they were making per word, I was like, "Oh, I'm going to have to write a lot of these articles." [laughter] Like... and they're going to have to accept me to even write one to begin with. So that was really a humbling experience. And I realized from my billable hours at, as a lawyer, you have to name it and claim it. You need to make, give... you're a consultant. They're not meeting you for coffee to pick your brain. That's BS. You are now a consultant and this is your hourly rate. So I completely made it up. I made it up, but there was value in being told no. A lot of folks were like, "Oh no, we don't. We'll just go to this person." Okay, great. Um, so that, that is when things started to really change for me, is when I started putting value on my time and naming a price.
Anna Sale: Uh-huh. And you were negotiating that on your own behalf initially?
RA: Yes, I was, I was a complete entrepreneur. And I started writing my book at the time, I was coaching runners, I was doing strength classes for runners in New York City. I mean, it was a total, like, cobbling together. Like these days I do spin classes. Then, in this 2 hours, I write my book. Then I go to coach someone. I mean, it was, there was a point where I was doing like 22 classes a week between like coaching sessions, group sessions, spin classes. I was just making it work, but, um, but that grind made me good at what I do.
AS: And in your family of origin, the family you grew up in, was, is it a family where you had to justify leaving a certain career path for an uncertain one?
RA: Thankfully, no. And I wasn't sure that they would be so supportive. My, um, I grew up, I'm a proud Latina. My mother is Cuban. My father is Puerto Rican. And my mother put herself through medical school, my father through law school. So they know work, they know grit, they know dreaming. And, I learned from them the value system that I really pride myself on of all those three things. And they did trust. First of all, I was out of their house. [laughs] So I mean, listen, I was going to figure it out on my own, or fail on my own. But they also trusted, they trusted my judgment. They did support me, and I never asked them for a dime, so it worked out.
AS: You never did.
RA: Never, not once.
And then the next year, in 2013, Robin had to make some big adjustments to her exercise routines, and her new career path. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It started when she noticed she was feeling tired, and drinking and peeing a lot more than usual.
RA: My mother is a physician and spotted the signs and said, "Oh, no, we need blood work." It was like blood work on a Monday, Tuesday, I'm being told my pancreas doesn't work. You know, it was just shocking to say the least. And I was in the midst of preparing for an ultra marathon, and I thought, "Oh my gosh, how am I going to run this race? Like we got to figure this out."
AS: Yeah, what, what was that like for you to absorb? Do you think of it like a grieving process to realize that you have a chronic disease?
RA: I was angry. I thought, "How can I be finally living as an athlete, and as somebody in wellness?" Um, and it really felt like I'm never going to be able to do all the things that I just trained myself to learn how to do. I just discovered running, now you're going to take it away? Actually, I was diagnosed just weeks before I started filming classes for Peloton.
And, they didn't even know that, but I'm literally filming my first classes, learning this entire new technology while also figuring out, like, how my body reacts to insulin, how my body reacts to certain types of movement. And I became, I just told myself, "You are just going to be your own science experiment. You're going to figure this out. You're going to bet on yourself and figure out the hell out because you worked too hard."
AS: Looking back. Do you think that was safe? Are there parts of that that were not safe?
RA: There were probably parts of it that were unsafe, but I don't care.
AS: And what does managing your diabetes mean in your life now?
RA: I mean thankfully, it's very well controlled. I have a looping system, so I basically loop, um, an Omnipod to, uh, to a device that monitors my blood sugar, and, you know, the online communities of type 1s that I've met have been so supportive and so informative. Um, and it really required me to A, to educate myself, and B, advocate for myself. Like battle the insurance companies, you know, finding the right endocrinologist, finding, like, you know, all these little pieces. One thing would fall by the wayside and then another thing, so it's just like finally things are dialed in, and I really finally feel like I'm, I'm in a, in a groove.
Robin often visibly wears her insulin pump on camera… and talks about living with diabetes during her Peloton classes. Just a few years after starting with the company, she was promoted to head instructor and vice president of fitness programming.
That was the result of a lot of vision-ing and pushing…and having a credit card to cover her when she was just starting out as a freelancer.
She says it was a similar approach of trying to get clear, taking a few risks, and putting in the effort…that led her to her husband.
RA: Oh, yes, I prayed for that man, I manifested that man. I was like, "Let's go. We are ready. We have a career going. I have a home. I am ready for this man." We ended up like, we lived four blocks away from each other, and we didn't even know each other 72 hours before he proposed.
AS: Whoa, really?
RA: Yeah, really.
AS: Where did you meet?
RA: We met, um, at this place called Sanatorium. I don't even know if it's open anymore. But, uh, ironically, after I say, you know, I don't like happy hours, I went with my girlfriend to this bar, this cocktail place, and my husband was there. We got to talking, and we realized we were both going to the same meditation event that Sunday. And this was like a Thursday, Friday morning at this point. And, um, we saw each other every single day that weekend. Then Sunday evening, the meditation event happens, and he takes me up to the rooftop and he says, "Uh, I know you're a fan of Beyoncé. I've been told that I should put a ring on it," and basically was like, "I want you in my life, are you in?" I said, "Let's do this."
AS: Oh, my God.
RA: Yeah, yeah that was, um, about five years ago.
AS: That's amazing. I want to know actually you said you prayed about it and you manifested him, um, did you, were there steps that you... like, how did you do that? How did you pray about it and manifest him?
RA: It was twofold. So, I did a lot of cleaning up my side of the street. It was like work on your stuff, do the therapy. Like I mean, I was truly like I want to be ready. I want to be the person I would marry, you know? And then, you know, I also had, I actually had a ceremony where I married myself, so I have a tattoo of a diamond ring on my left hand.
AS: When did you do that?
RA: About six months before meeting my husband.
AS: Did people come? Did you invite people?
RA: It was, it was, literally, it was at a tattoo like in a tattoo shop, and I just had this thing where I was like I don't need anybody to put a ring on it. Like I'm going to buy myself a diamond that is so permanent, that it lives on my skin. And I, this is my favorite tattoo, one of my favorites. And um, yeah, then I met my husband.
AS: And then you look at your left hand right now, what do you see?
RA: I see two elements to partnership, right? It's the ring that my husband designed, and then it's the diamond tattoo that I got, and those are two critical elements, right? It's the partnership that I have with my husband to create this life, and then it's the partnership with myself, and that's the most basic and most important of them all.
Another partnership she's working on now is between mother and daughter. She had her daughter Athena last February, though for a lot of us, the physical and emotional transitions of parenthood started months before that.
RA: I was still teaching live classes up into my ninth month of pregnancy, and that, you know, the pandemic was really isolating, but then I was also leading this very, very public life, and a very public pregnancy.
AS: Performing pregnancy, yes.
RA: Yeah, so, I mean there would be days where I would program a workout and think, "I don't even know if I can physically do this." Your body's changing so much every day, every week. So, at every point before I would teach a class from, "Are these pants going to fit?" [laughter] "Can I get my boots on to like walk in the snow, to the vehicle, to the, to the studio?" You know, here were every little piece just takes that added. There's so much more effort, and it's only in retrospect that I allow myself to consider how tough that it really was, because when I'm in the moment and it's just like, "Get it done." You know, Having the, having the framework of classes and a community to share in that movement with really kept me feeling amazing, truly amazing for, for my pregnancy, but five days a week of live classes, it was a lot. It was a lot.
AS: Yeah. After you had your child, and you're noticing how pregnancy has changed your body, did it make you reevaluate how much you're in charge of how your body works and what it looks like?
RA: I tried to focus as much on what my body could do rather than what the reflection looked like, because it looked so different, you know? Because I was joyful and then also just like, "Wait, that doesn't even look like me," especially postpartum. And my mantra became consistency over intensity. And I knew that I would feel more like myself in the pockets of movement that I could find, the appropriate pockets of movement, right? Especially in the beginning, literally just walking, and breathwork, and things like that. And I just kept telling myself consistency over intensity. I stepped on a scale at the doctor's office and I said, "Don't even tell me what it is." I still haven't stepped on a scale. I am stronger than I have ever been in my entire life. And I think it was because I just kept showing up little by little by little by little and just taking those small moments to say, "Focus on what your body can do rather than any external gaze."
AS: And, um, so you came up with the mantra, did, did it feel like you could live that? Like, as it hard?
RA: Ooh yeah, like of course, it was hard. If I could like have I dream of Jeannie wishes, it would've been, "I want to lift my heaviest and sprint my fastest a week after giving birth," which is not only unsafe, but it's totally unrealistic. So it was really hard, but it was a good hard. It was important to know that I could tap into what I found, what was really was my most vulnerable, and still find strength on the other side not by increasing intensity, but by actually slowing down the pace. And that was a lesson that I've never [chuckles] been forced to learn before. I wanted to focus on moving in ways that made me feel good, and putting, creating a cocoon around my family. And, um, that the, I would feel like myself, or the new version of myself, with time.
AS: Mhmm, mhmm. I found that really hard postpartum, the time, the, like, letting yourself have time.
RA: Oh, yes. Time is both sped up and completely slowed down.
When I started falling in love with running and ultras and marathons, there was, I mean, there weren't enough finish lines. I was running marathons like every four months. It was a lot on my body. I wasn't giving myself any rest because I am so apt to dial into intensity. That, that is, that's a switch that I can turn on very easily, and I love it. I love sprints, I love heavy lifting, I love farther distances. You know, that's my comfort. I am comfortable with uncomfortable, but this was a different type of discomfort. And it was a discomfort in needing to surrender to motherhood, needing to find that slowing down takes confidence.
That's Robin Arzón. She has a new children's book out called Strong Mama.
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC Studios in New York. This episode was produced by Afi Yellow-Duke. The rest of our team includes Katie Bishop, Emily Botein, and Andrew Dunn. Thank you to Joe Plourde for his help with this episode. The Reverend John DeLore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
I'm on Instagram @annasalepics, that's P-I-C-S, and the show is @deathsexmoney on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Thank you to Elenor Lindsay in Parrish, Florida, who is a sustaining member of Death, Sex and Money. Join Elenor and support what we do here, by going to deathsexmoney.org/donate.
I also wanna say we heard from a lot of you at the end of 2021 with year-end contributions, and we sincerely thank all of you.
We hope this year is starting off with some big dreams and healthy self-compassion for you. As I wrapped up my conversation with Robin, I asked her how she currently defines self-care. Her answer? Making others respect her time.
RA: I love the hustle, I love the grind. I truly do, but I'm not willing to just work endlessly anymore. Like, if the 60-minute call can be 15 minutes, you better believe it's going to be 15 minutes.
I'm Anna Sale, and this is Death, Sex and Money from WNYC.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.