Reflections on an Unexpected Conversation

In the final minutes of 2014, I found myself in a loud room full of total strangers, except for my family, seated next to a 72-year-old woman. We scooted closer to each other on the crowded L-shaped couch and leaned in for an unexpected conversation, at the top of our lungs, yet still under the din of the partygoers.

“My daughter tells me you teach Spinning. I love Spinning and do it at least twice per week, but oh, how I miss my last instructor.”

What followed was a lengthy exposé from one of the industry’s most loyal, yet marginally recognized participants.

Out of curiosity, I probed and discovered that she had no idea there were brands of indoor cycling. She said, “Do you mean that there are different styles like Ashtanga yoga vs. Bikram yoga? I thought it was like taking salsa classes—you just get the personal style of the instructor. I moved and joined a new gym and no one comes close to my last instructor.”

I couldn’t help myself; I had to ask. “What distinguishes a good instructor from a bad instructor?”

She didn’t even hesitate. “First of all it is the music. It has to be music that I like.”

I resisted the urge to ask her what that was; frankly, it’s a crapshoot if participants will like our music or not. I wanted the nitty-gritty. “Music is really important,” I affirmed, “but tell me what your last instructor was like that you haven’t found in other instructors.”

“Well,” she hesitated and thought for a moment. “I had been taking classes for five years before I met him. In my first class with him he asked me how old I was, if I had any medical conditions he should know about, and then he changed the setting of my bike. I didn’t even know I was riding too low for five years!”

“That’s awesome,” I replied. “It is so important to trust that your instructor is looking out for you.”

“Yes, he really cared about me, even though I was the oldest in the class.” She shook her head. “None of my new instructors, and I’ve been to four at my new gym, have even asked my name.”

Thinking that I might have been guilty of this myself at some time across the years of teaching, I encouraged her to keep going to the classes and give them a chance. “Maybe they’re just giving you time to get accustomed to the new gym and don’t want to overwhelm you…maybe?”

“I’ve been at my new gym for more than a year.”

We were interrupted by a shout from the crowd. “Ten minutes to 2015, everyone! Get your champagne!”

“Would you like me to go get you a glass?” She declined. She had class in the morning, after all.

“Do you know the instructor who will teach tomorrow morning?” I figured that she was planning on this class, so maybe the instructor was one she liked.

“No,” she replied. “The schedule just says “TBD. ‘To be determined.’ I hate that.”

“It’s nice to know what to, or who to expect, isn’t it? How will you know when you find your new favorite instructor?”

The room grew louder and louder. Both of us were straining our voices to be heard. She put her hand on my knee and leaned in closer to my ear. “I used to think that the best instructor had the fullest classes. Not any more, though. I know when the instructor is perfect for me because I change my schedule to attend the class.”

I said, “Well, it is so nice to meet you—I hope 2015 will be your year to attend great classes.” I wanted to go find my kids and husband for the strike of midnight. But she stopped me. She hooked her arm through my elbow and proceeded to finally answer my original question.

“A good instructor cares that I showed up for class and tells me he misses me when I don’t show up. A good instructor corrects me on my bike. Imagine all those years I was riding too low! Goodness gracious—I could have hurt myself! A good instructor has music that makes me forget I’m exercising and teaches me so I forget I’m struggling. When I leave, I know it was good for me, but I also look at the schedule on my way out so I know when to come again.”

Before we knew it, the crowd was cheering and we were separated by well-wishers. I didn’t see her again and I never caught her name.

I wake up this morning grateful for her enthusiasm and candid conversation. Seventy-two years young and actively seeking out indoor cycling classes because she knows how good they can be, but her gift to me was a realization that I want to share with you as you take on another year of teaching classes to the general public.

For all the professional networking we’re always seeking, we can’t forget that ultimately, it is the participant we serve. My resolution for 2015 is to truly network by connecting with class participants whenever I can. I know I can teach from the bike with the mic, but I have so much to learn from the bikes in front of me.

9 Responses to “Reflections on an Unexpected Conversation”

  1. shaera hayes says:

    Cori, this is an exceptional article!

  2. Eileen says:

    Thanks Cori for sharing this! I am not an instructor but an avid indoor cyclist for almost 5 years now. I have found two incredibly skillful and caring instructors during that time and those are the classes I make sure I get to every week.

  3. Sharon Altman says:

    I’m really proud to say I do all that with my participants because I really do care how they are set up and what’s kind of workout they have. That’s why my classes are full not because I do push-ups and popcorn jumps!!! Great article Cori

  4. JohnAndrews says:

    Great article Cori thanks for demonstrating how genuine concern and focus on participants is worth the effort.

  5. Bill Roach says:

    Thank you Cori for the lovely reflection. Good lessons. Good writing.

  6. George says:

    I loved that you published this.
    In our gym my Spinning classes are usually full and it’s probably because I “naturally” do the things mentioned by the 72-year-old woman and conform to the Spinning basics. My students range from teens to late 70s and include mountain bike racers and the bike police.
    By the way I am 73-years-old. :>)

  7. Renee Shapurji says:

    nice and poignant reflections, Cori. Thanks for sharing.

  8. TheresaPalumbo says:

    This has always been a problem with me! There have been countless bikes that I have set up for people who have been riding for years and it always saddens me when they say I’m the first to have ever made an adjustment…..

  9. Andrea Shepard says:

    I subbed a class today. At this time of year, we tend to have newbies/returnees. I had to set someone up right as class was starting. I jumped off my trusty bike with my bike fit goniometer and plumb line. After class, there were eight people that wanted to talk to me. I ended up staying for 40 minutes fitting their bikes, answering questions and offering suggestions about numb feet, sore nether regions, tingling in wrists, sore backs, etc. These were all participants that have been coming to the club for awhile. They all said that they were never fitted to their bikes. I hope that’s not true.

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