How Robin Arzon, a former non-athlete, became the face of fitness for cycling superpower Peloton
Robin Arzon is yelling at you. Somehow, she projected herself into your basement and saw you turn your resistance down when she told you to turn it up. She knows you let your legs slow down before that last sprint was finished. And she sees you, still sucking on your water bottle when she told you to put it away. She's looking at you so intensely, all abs and braids and red lipstick, calling you out not because she's mad but because she knows you have so much more to give.
Her positivity is palpable and it fills your basement, fills you from your toes to your eyeballs even though you're 25 or 250 or 2,500 miles away from the Peloton cycling studio on 23rd Street in Manhattan. "Straighten up and adjust your crown," she says. This is why they call her The Queen. And every member of Peloton's peloton has bent the knee.
Peloton's explosion onto the fitness scene has been unprecedented. The company, now seven years old, has more than one million members. It made its name selling its now-famous, ultra-smooth $2,245 bicycle with its attached monitor, on which members can stream live classes from Peloton's New York studios. Last year, shortly after the company announced a $4.15 billion valuation, the $4,295 treadmill, dubbed the Peloton Tread, made its debut. Arzon, who joined the company as an instructor in 2014 and was promoted to vice president of fitness programming in 2016, is Peloton's most popular instructor on both the bike and the treadmill.
Arzon is a New York Times bestselling author, a Type-1 diabetic and corporate litigator turned fitness superstar whose transformation into an athlete began with a near-death experience. Her backstory may be even more inspiring than her classes.
Arzon grew up in Philadelphia. Her Cuban refugee mother taught herself to speak English by watching PBS, then became a doctor. Her Puerto Rican-born father, an attorney, inspired her to go to law school. But athletics weren't an option. "The importance of my family was family," Arzon says. "You didn't go play organized sports or join some kind of league. You spent your time working with the family and that was it. Our free time was spent doing what our abuelas said. And academics were very important."
Arzon found herself at New York University for undergrad, where in the summer of 2002, she was taken hostage, along with 40 others, at a wine bar in Manhattan's East Village. A man, armed with three pistols and a samurai sword, shot three people, doused the group with kerosene and threatened them with a barbecue lighter. He grabbed Arzon by the hair and held the gun and lighter to her head while using her as a human shield to communicate with police. Two patrons eventually tackled the man, giving police the opportunity to enter the bar and subdue him.
"That incident is the reason I started running, because I physically needed to run the trauma out," Arzon says. "I don't recall when it became something that is a historical reference, but at some point it became something that happened rather than something that was happening to me. That shift happened with training."
It was a little more than a year later, shortly after Arzon started law school at Villanova University back in Philly, that she ran her first race, a 10K. It was the very first athletic endeavor Arzon had undertaken in her life. It was done on a whim, after she saw a flyer in a bank on a Friday afternoon for the race the following morning.
"It was awful," she says. "I had no training. I remember walking to water stations and thinking, 'I'm never going to get there.' Side stitches, terrible shoes. But when I crossed the finish line, I vowed that it would never be that hard again. Because I actually loved it."
Since then, Arzon has run more than 20 marathons, including five in five days in 2010, three 50-mile ultramarathons and one hundred-miler. Along the way, she picked up more than 200,000 Instagram followers, an Adidas sponsorship and, most importantly, the confidence to finally, after years of reluctance and denial, call herself an athlete.
"Even after a few marathons, I was still reticent to even call myself a runner," Arzon says. "I was training with folks who were better runners than I was. I was admiring Olympians and then getting in contact with them, and these people were the best in the world. When you surround yourself with that kind of greatness, you're hesitant to say, 'Oh, maybe I'm a version of that, too.' And finally, I realized that was bulls---. Once I started to own my voice, that was when the game changed for me. That was when more opportunities came professionally."
After law school, Arzon was a corporate litigator for seven years at a law firm in New York, working long hours and fitting in runs when she could. But she had fallen in love with athletics and found herself yearning for more, and wondering if it was possible to monetize her fitness obsession. She began taking classes on the side, collecting certifications as an RRCA running coach, NASM personal trainer and Schwinn spin instructor.
"I had to decide if I wanted in or out," Arzon says. "Did I want to own the ambitious track of becoming a partner at the law firm or did I want to own the equally ambitious track of creating my own career in fitness? I chose the latter."
Now, Arzon leads what she refers to as "a team of superheroes" at Peloton. Each of the company's cycling, running and yoga instructors is expected to not only lead killer workouts but essentially host the television show that is each class. "There is something really special about providing entertainment and credible fitness authority at the same time, and that is the secret sauce of Peloton," Arzon says.
Arzon teaches Peloton classes five days a week in addition to her own workouts. Thursdays are for speed work, Saturdays are for long runs -- 10-15 miles year-round, and longer when there is a marathon on her calendar (her next one is this fall) -- and she works in strength training three days per week. If anything, Arzon's training has increased since her Type 1-diabetes diagnosis five years ago and she says now, at 37, she is in the best shape of her life.
And she wants you to be, too. Through Peloton, Arzon says, everyone from former pros who want to continue working out to average people getting off the couch for the first time all instantly have a million teammates in their corner. "We just want to continue to create more ways to welcome people to the fitness experience."
On a balmy spring afternoon, Arzon is doing just that, welcoming Samantha Sullivan-Toscani from San Antonio, Texas, to the Peloton Tread studio on Christopher Street in Manhattan's West Village. Sullivan-Toscani, wearing one of Arzon's trademark "Sweat with Swagger" tank tops, has come to New York with her husband Peter, a retired Air Force major, to celebrate her 36th birthday. All she wanted as a gift was to take two of Arzon's classes -- one on the bike and one on the treadmill -- in person.
"Robin is the only person I've done any kind of workout or training with who has kept me motivated and kept me accountable for everything," she says. "I love her positivity and her motivation. I honestly just think she is wonderful."
Sullivan-Toscani gets what she came for in Arzon's Tread class. "What's the point of doing this if we're not going to be challenged together?" Arzon hollers. "Give me that speed back! What's 10 more seconds to a queen?"