Chapeau! by Mike Courteau

I have attended 37 spinning classes since December 17, 2010. Most of those sessions lasted 45 minutes, but accounting for the roughly fifteen minutes of warm-up that I have done each time, that amounts to about 37 hours of cycling.

Curiously, I sometimes feel like I am in phenomenal cycling shape and I sometimes feel like I’ve barely made progress. But, of course, I know I have deposited a sizeable contribution into my cardio-fitness bank. I can pedal harder for longer, I recover faster, I have more energy off the bike and my resting heart rate has dropped a few beats per minute.

But, perhaps as importantly as the physical benefits that I have enjoyed, I have also grown, well, dare I say, spiritually?

Let this post be an homage, then, to all of the instructors who have kept me spinning all winter long:

Joel is a tri-athlete who teaches the Friday, noon class. He doesn’t have an ounce of body fat on him. He looks like a cyclist—one of those petite European pro riders, Carlos Sastre comes to mind, who looks as though he could climb the myriad switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez without breaking a sweat. He likes to divide his 45-minute class into three segments—each harder than the last. Whenever he has us pretend that we’re climbing with Lance Armstrong up a hill while watching a Tour De France DVD, he shouts, “Attack! Attack!” and somehow he manages to get me to put forth more effort than I plan to.

Kathy combines the disciplines of yoga and spinning into her 60-minute class. It sounds relaxing, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled. She likes to lull you into getting centered and integrated with a toe-to-head body scan before urging you to pedal as hard as you possibly can. She implores you. She entreats you. She beseeches you into realizing that you absolutely must give everything you have RIGHT NOW. In terms of sheer physical demands, no class surpasses hers. Even though I have endured grueling workouts at the behest of a number of instructors all winter long, I still cannot match the pace of Kathy’s workouts. She breaks me every time.

Finally, there’s Walker. He is a former Minnesota Vikings linebacker who, unlike Joel, does not look like a cyclist. He looks as though he belongs at the other end of the gym, in the weight room stacking 45-pound plates on each end of the bar. He is part DJ, he is part coach, and he is part spiritual guide. Walker peppers his sessions with phrases like, “You see all that sweat below your bike? That’s your DNA on the floor,” and “We’re a family. We’re a community. We ride together, and all we ask is that you do your best.” And somehow, this admixture of hip-hop music, encouragement, and social awareness motivates me more than any other class.

When a professional cyclist wins a race his brethren praise him by saying, “Chapeau,” which means roughly, “Hats off,” in French. So to Joel, Kathy, Walker and all the other instructors who have challenged me over the course of those aforementioned 37 spinning sessions…


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