How One Rider Found Strength and Happiness While Losing 65 Pounds at SOUL
fter tragically losing her mother and her husband, SANDRA MILLER began riding at SoulCycle and found courage, clarity and happiness. Now 65 pounds lighter, she says, “While you will fall down many times in life, it is always in our power to get back up and be even stronger.” Here’s her inspiring story…
I walked past the SoulCycle in Brooklyn Heights when it first opened. I was at a point of stagnation and desperation. I was 50 years old, overweight and felt like my life was doomed to serve only work and my kids, with no joy left for myself. The years leading up to this point were so hard.
In 2009 I had married a wonderful, albeit very co-dependent man. He had two boys and I two daughters. We were a very happy blended family. Because of custody issues with his ex-wife, I sold my apartment in New York and moved to rural Pennsylvania. I had lived in New York for almost 20 years and gave up everything so he could be close to his boys. My friends, my work, my family, and my financial equity. Every romantic relationship in my life was one of giving everything to a partner. My lack of self-esteem had so pervaded my life that I never thought I was worthy of love unless I gave financially, emotionally and every other way 1000%.
My mother had been suffering with ALS for five years. She died the November after I married my husband. My mom was everything to me, and to watch her body wither away for five years while her mind stayed intact was excruciating. After being on a breathing tube, a feeding tube and bedridden for so long, she asked Hospice to pull the plug. I held my mother’s hand while she died and the hole in my heart will never heal from losing her. We spoke every day, and I still want to call her to catch up, laugh or just talk. She will never see my daughters grow up, and they will never get to experience my mother’s enormous love or her many talents. All that is good in me is because of my mother. Her kindness, compassion, generosity, selflessness and love shaped who I am to a profound degree. The next week, my beloved dog Ted was run over by a car. I have almost never been without a dog in my life, and was devastated because it was me who forgot to call him back into the house that night.
Shortly after, my husband and I bought a house in Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful old house built in 1835 with a giant barn and wonderful pre-war details. We were having some renovations done prior to moving and the day we were supposed to move, the police came to our door at 3:00 AM to tell us that there was a fire at our house. We later found out that the contractor had left a bucket of linseed soaked rags which spontaneously combusted. I stood that snowy evening watching this historic house burn down. I felt that I was responsible for the loss of a piece of history and that my life was burning down in front of me. Devastation is an understatement.
I was a freelance producer at the time and work had been so slow that I was trying to find some sort of second career in Pennsylvania. I took a substantial amount of savings and bought a pizzeria, thinking it would generate enough money to live on, and be a great place our kids to have summer jobs when they were older. The original owner had fudged his financials and I ended up selling the pizzeria for 1/10th of the original purchase price.
Around this time, my husband lost his job, which sent him into a spiral of depression, and without health insurance, he could not afford medication. Shortly after, I got a job back in Brooklyn at a big media company. I was commuting six hours a day and not seeing my own daughters who were then 8 and 10. My husband was so depressed that he just slept the days away and became incommunicative. I was working all the time, commuted so much and then every weekend did the housework, grocery shopping and cooking.
Because my husband was rail thin and he and his teen boys ate like bottomless pits, there was always junk food around. I had ballooned up to 235 pounds. Working at a very millennial centric media company where I was perhaps the oldest employee was so hard on my ego. I remember one day thinking I was doomed to never wear short sleeves or anything that exposed my legs EVER again. I could not stand seeing myself so overweight. But there was literally no time for exercise.
My girls and I were in Brooklyn one Thursday night when my husband started texting me that he was going to take his own life — he blamed me for being away. Frantically I called the police but they showed up too late. Suicide ends one troubled person’s pain, but leaves so many loved ones in the wake of a lifetime of pain. My guilt was enormous. Intellectually, I know my husband did not kill himself just for me. He had been on a downward spiral. But to have someone you loved so deeply blame you for their death is just mind-bogglingly painful.
My daughters and I had moved to Brooklyn so that we could be near great public schools and I could trust them walking back and forth to school while I was at work. Between my mortgage on my empty house and the high rent of my apartment in Brooklyn, I was going broke. All of my savings were gone, and in the few years that I had been out of NYC, real estate had seemingly gone through the roof. I thought I would never be a homeowner again. I was working crazy hours, and managing two pre-teen daughters and three dogs.
One day walking from the subway to home, I saw that SoulCycle had opened. I had been having terrible insomnia in which I would get up every morning at 4:11 AM. So, I thought, why not take advantage of my early mornings and take a 6:00 AM class? I could still get back at 7:00 AM to feed the girls, make their lunches and get them off to school before I got ready, and was at work by 9:00 AM. My first class was also Joey Coppedge’s first class in Brooklyn Heights.
The music, the energy, the sweat and the inspiration made me fall in love with SoulCycle from day one. Granted I thought I might literally have a heart attack, but it spoke to my soul somehow. And gave me 45 minutes of NOT feeling bad for myself, or feeling like my life was destined to be one bad thing after another. I had been so upset about such a long string of bad events. I thought I was too fat and old for anyone to love, I was destined to be broke and I was even having anxiety attacks. After all, how could life be any worse?
Going to SoulCycle helped my anxiety, so much. I started eating better. I gave up my lifelong addiction with diet soda. And in the past year and a half that I have been riding at SoulCycle, I have lost 65 pounds. I am now a regular with Joey, Selena and Santron. In different ways they all inspire me to know how strong I am. To feel 45 minutes of freedom, joy and self-forgiveness. I always leave class knowing I can conquer the world because I conquered that class. I have overcome so much and risen from that darkness to be in a place of such light and happiness. At almost 52 years old, I am in the best shape of my life. My doctor said I might have the best cholesterol levels of anyone in NYC. I feel great and look great. It took a long time to date and at times it is not fun, but I know someday I will find romantic love again. Even more importantly I am teaching my daughters through experience, that while you will fall down many times in life, it is always in our power to get back up and be even stronger.
When I was a child, I was chubby and self-conscious. Kids at school perpetually made fun of me for being big. At 14, I was my full adult height of 5-foot-11, and what most kindly called “big boned.” I was never allowed to participate in extracurricular activities that cost money. My dad told me I was too big to go to ballet classes, and no he would not pay for it. My reaction has been to encourage my kids in all their interests— my older daughter, who is now almost 13, started riding horses when we lived in Pennsylvania. She’s continued riding since moving to Brooklyn, is on a team and competes in equestrian shows. My younger daughter loves dance and takes ballet, tap and lyrical dancing.
Life is hard at times, actually very hard. But we have the power over our own destiny and the ability to believe we can do anything. I went from almost having a heart attack at SoulCycle to being a front row rider. My girls often show a picture from birthday lunch a few years back — my younger daughter says I have really ‘blossomed’ in the past few years. I tell them that it’s because I chose happiness over pain; I chose to believe in myself rather than let life kick me down or keep me down.
SoulCycle and the amazing inspiration I get from Joey, Selena, and Santron helped me realize how strong I really am, how fierce I am, and the many great things I am giving to this world. I have a great job now, I am raising two amazingly strong and talented girls, I’m dating, I am starting to volunteer for organizations I believe in.
When people talk about community, strength, love and inspiration at SoulCycle, I know I am a living embodiment of that. And I thank every that day I walked past SoulCycle, gave it a shot, and grew to love the staff and instructors there. Not as the dysfunctional family who I was born into… but my chosen family who inspires me and gives me joy always. Thank you, SoulCycle, for helping me find my strength, my joy and the passion to conquer the world. Rather than be a victim of life’s circumstances, I have learned to always choose happiness.