Image courtesy of Stacey Griffith
Stacey Griffith, 48, is a founding senior master instructor at SoulCycle who teaches in the company’s New York and Los Angeles studios. By 12:01p.m. on Mondays, every one of her 78-bike classes for the week sell out; she counts Mickey Drexler and Kelly Ripa among her clients. Her first book, Two Turns from Zero: Pushing to Higher Fitness Goals--Converting Them to Life Strength, came out this month.
I grew up in Cupertino, California with little supervision from my parents. I was a typical crazy teenager. We were little bandits, and I got into a lot of trouble. We’d run around on our bikes, build tree houses. The one thing that kept me on track was sports. When I was 9, I joined the club soccer and track teams, and later basketball, and it kept me out of trouble. Because I didn’t get too much supervision from my parents, I turned to my coaches for everything. They became my best friends. We had that bond. Looking back, I became so passionate about coaching because I was coached so well. Everything I do in my life is a little piece of someone who coached me along the way.
When I was in fifth grade, I asked the woman on yard duty at school what it meant to be called a “dyke.” She said, “You don’t want to be called that. It means you want to kiss another girl.” And I thought, “But I do want to kiss another girl.” I thought then that it was something I shouldn’t tell anyone.
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I suppressed being gay until I was a freshman in high school. I was too embarrassed to bring it up. When I did, it was 1982, and it was awkward to transition. It was not cool to be out. People were dying of AIDS, and there was a stigma to being gay. It was a taboo topic. For my family, the initial shock was riveting. After about a year, though, my mom really grabbed on to it and was very accepting. My dad and other family eventually came around. Even my 98-year-old grandma, who was in her seventies when I came out, was accepting. Now she calls my girlfriend my “lady friend.”
My senior year of high school, I tore my ACL and had to get surgery. I dropped out of school because I couldn’t carry my books and didn’t finish up my degree for another year and a half. But at the time, I followed my girlfriend to San Louis Obispo and got a job at the YMCA working with kids. One day, one of the fitness teachers didn’t show up and I was able to start teaching workout classes, which was just the first step toward my fondness for fitness.
Stacey in 1995. Photograph courtesy of Stacey Griffith
It was also around the same time that I got introduced to cocaine, which was a random habit that grew and grew until, by my mid-thirties, I wasn’t afraid to experiment with ecstasy and crystal meth.
At first it was just a weekend thing. Then it started trickling into my weekly life. By my late thirties, it became a daily thing.
When you’re in the throes of addiction, you don’t realize something bad is happening. When a close friend I did drugs with regularly died of suicide, I hit the real bottom. Soon enough, I learned that hitting the lowest low of my life was the time to make change.
I gave up drinking, drugs, and partying. I centered myself by moving. I went to the gym, took a class, took a walk. And I still went to work. Spinning really saved my life. I could show up to my students, and it was a community. Any time people come together, whether for spin class or church, it’s a feeling of community that grounds you.
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Two months after my friend’s suicide, I taught a spin class without knowing that SoulCycle’s co-founder Elizabeth Butler was on one of the bikes. After class, she told me she was opening a new-vibe studio and I’d be perfect for it. She was looking for zen, spiritual, motivating teachers.
So in 2006, I moved from California to New York. Here we are, more than a decade later with 72 studios across the country. This job took fitness to a new level: It wasn’t just teaching anymore, it was a career. And this career could change lives. There’s nothing better than seeing my students grow and thrive. (Kick-start your new, healthy routine with Women's Health's 12-Week Total-Body Transformation!)
But I didn’t get here without help. My fitness was my foundation, and it seeped into my every day life and attitude.
This yoga pose will help you breathe easier:
Addiction isn’t just related to drugs. People are addicted to lots of other things, like food or love. It’s really just another word for numbing yourself with something, anything, to help you get through whatever you feel needs numbing. I would say to anyone who is struggling with addiction that you can’t do anything by yourself. You have to surrender and ask for help.
My help came in the form of fitness. And the energy you get from the gym can make you stronger both on the bike—or the running trail or the yoga mat or the rowing machine—and off.