'SoulCycle Gave Me the Precious Gift of Confidence': Emily Cappello's SOUL Story
July 2, 2016
SoulCycle came to me as a blessing in the purest form. Terrified for an upcoming surgery, I was looking for a workout routine that would strengthen my heart and get me in fighting shape for what was supposed to be a quick, routine procedure.
I’d been suffering from digestive problems for five years, so my doctors had decided that my colon, a major organ in the process of digestion, would need to be removed. The organ had lost most of its function due to lack of use during my 11-year struggle with anorexia. Even after I recovered, the colon never fully regained its ability to function, and it would be lost to my eating disorder.
But my eating disorder didn’t just affect my intestines; my heart was impacted as well. As young as 14, I developed orthostatic hypotension in my heart as it struggled to continue pumping with what little nutrition I was giving it. So I knew that I needed to be kind to myself and prepare my body for what was to come. I knew I needed to find a workout that would not only develop my heart, but my soul as well.
I clipped in for the first time in the back row, telling myself I would try my hardest, and whatever I found in that room would be progress in itself. Before class even started, I was treated like everyone knew me, a feeling I wasn’t familiar with, even within myself.
I’ve always found music to be a form of speaking when I had no words: an ironic realization for someone who hoped to make her living as a writer. English always seemed like a second language to me after years of telling myself that my words weren’t worth expressing, yet here I was, in a room where I was being encouraged to make noise, to let myself go. I was in a different kind of darkness, surrounded by the most support I had ever felt from strangers.
After that first class, I kept coming back because I found 'my' instructors: a rockstar in Molly, a spiritual teacher in Nick and a SOUL sister in Lisa. These three instructors had no idea that I looked at them like they had discovered a secret I had been looking for my entire life. They possessed a confidence that I never knew someone could have. Lisa and I developed a bond, and the strength she gave me in those first five months of my riding contributed to the courage I miraculously discovered when everything went as dark as it possibly could have.
On May 15, 2015, I walked in for my surgery. This marks the day that my life changed forever: It stands as the anniversary of not only the darkest time in my life, but of the re-discovery of Emily. I was overcome by a fierce eating disorder at the age of 10, and I was in and out of the hospital for the next decade, dealing with complications associated with malnutrition.
After dropping out of college, going to a treatment facility and experiencing countless relapses, I felt I had no purpose in my life. The anxiety, stress and pure nightmare I had put myself through for more than half my life served for the only example I had of what life could look like. The support I received from my family brought me to Los Angeles, the magical land where I wanted to live from my first visit as a kid. It was some charmed twist of destiny that delivered me to SoulCycle; it was fate that brought me to that surgery and it is love that made me the person I rejoice in being today.
The first surgery didn’t go smoothly. There was a tear in the colon that left me leaking waste into my body. The doctors attempted to drain my body through my back, through my nose, then through my stomach. I was having visions of people and things that weren’t there; I could barely breathe. I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was, and I thought maybe I wasn’t meant to fight through this.
The leaking didn’t seem to be stopping, so back onto the operating table I went. After my second surgery I felt much better: I was conversing with people, walking around and sleeping. I was discharged, and I proceeded to fly back to the East Coast to be with my family. The next thing I remember is waking up over a week later in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital in New Jersey.
The details of what had happened were later revealed to me, and I found out that I had been in a medically-induced coma for five days shortly after receiving a third emergency surgery in New Jersey. My body had kept leaking after my second procedure, and I had flown 3,000 miles with bile in my blood, spreading into every crevice of my body. I became septic, getting blood transfusions and developing two blood clots in my left arm. But the thing that changed me the most was the colostomy bag attached to the left side of my body, put in place to stop the leaking and to save my life.
I was forced to learn how to take care of myself in a way I never thought possible. I was just a few years in from learning the basics of food, water and the rest of the necessities to live a happy life; now I had to learn how to empty and clean a colostomy bag. But I had no choice. What’s more, I couldn’t stand on my own, let alone walk. This is when I learned that when everything is taken away from you, the only thing that keeps you alive is the light inside your soul… the only thing that keeps you wanting to go on is hope that there is something out there in the future, no matter how far away it may be, that is worth fighting for.
This is when I learned how strong love is: how it can keep you battling the circumstances that are suffocating you. It is love that keeps you breathing in and out. When I was finally moved out of the ICU and up a couple of floors to a quieter room, I started to understand what had happened to me. I cried through the days and I sweated through the nights, having nightmares and night terrors that caused me to never have a moment’s peace. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror because I felt so shamefully ugly.
The first time I listened to music again, I wept. I sat alone in my room for the first time since I had woken from my coma and I gently rested my head on my iPad while I listened to one of my fight songs. Instantly, I remembered the feeling I had at SoulCycle: the feeling of indescribable purpose. I remembered what confidence felt like. I remembered the people who I looked up to — I remembered Lisa’s kindness and feeling like I’d known her my entire life. I couldn’t bear sitting in my wheelchair watching people around me get in their cars and leave the place where I felt trapped. Even if it seemed small, I had found one reason to dominate over my limitations: I wanted to get back to the place where I felt invincible.
I started working harder with my physical therapist – I didn’t want to use the walker. I didn’t want to just survive under my circumstances… I wanted to thrive. I wanted to get back on that bike and I wanted to soar again.
I learned how to change my bag, and I was finally able to look at myself without feeling like I had no reason to be standing on my own two feet. I felt worthy of leaving those now-familiar walls, and almost five weeks after I entered the double doors of that hospital, I was free to leave. I knew I had to come back that winter for another surgery, but I realized I would be ready, and I knew I was one step closer to finding Emily again.
I wasn’t able to exercise much for the seven months that I lived with my bag, but I was back in Los Angeles, and I knew that soon enough, I would get to see my SOUL friends again. When I had my reversal surgery on December 8, I was fortunate enough to have everything go smoothly. It was another two months before I was cleared for SoulCycle, but I found myself back the second I was given the green light to exercise again.
When I clipped back in, my heart lit up. I rode for the girl who sat feeling useless and hopeless in her hospital room, staring at the blank white walls. I rode for that girl, sending her back a message of love – that everything would be okay and that I was here…that we had made it. I rode for Lisa, who welcomed me back with open arms, and who has spent every day as the most beautiful inspiration to my glorious new world. I rode for those who weren’t able to leave the hospital, and those still fighting. I cried, I laughed, I smiled… and once again, I soared.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not send my love to the universe, sometimes for the simple fact that I am able to pick up my toothbrush and brush my own teeth. I can lift my arms and wash my own hair, and I can do this with the muscles that were built from the love I was given during my darkest time. Love is a miracle in itself, and we are given an endless supply of it, simply within our own bodies. Most people believe that they will run out if they give it to everything and everyone, but it is just the opposite: the love multiplies, and it comes back to us in ways we never would expect.
I have learned to never hold that love back. I give it out every day in the endless amount of opportunities I have been given now that I get a second chance at my life. I do my best, and at the end of the day I know that if nothing else, I have been given the gift of knowing the power of community and the power of love.
SoulCycle gave me the precious gift of confidence. People say all the time that certain things, places, events or other people have changed their life; and I can truly say without a doubt that SOUL changed mine forever and for good. It did not come into my life, change it and leave it — it is there for me and is a constant that gives me so much joy. If I could, I would ride every day. I can smile with strangers and laugh with familiar faces. I can clip into a bike and let Emily shine, and I can carry that shine with me wherever I go. I have more radiance in each and every corner of my being because of those 45 minutes I spend with my SOUL family. They know me in my very best state, and they inspire me to keep moving forward. SOUL is a gift I give myself and hope I can always give myself.
I did not create or choose the experiences that I had – they were given to me. While I am proud of myself for the way I overcame my obstacles, I do not want to take away the fact that I owe everything to love. I found Emily through the experiences that I had, and I was given the gift of all of you. I thought of each and every person who has inspired me in order to get where I am today, and I cannot possibly write this piece without giving you all a tremendous amount of credit. I am merely sharing my experiences, so that others can know that love does exist and that there is hope. The light inside of us is so contagious, and it lights the way for others. I know I can conquer anything, because I have an army behind me. I am so incredibly, unreasonably, ridiculously blessed. Thank you.
“All we need, all we need is hope. And for that we have each other, and for that we have each other.” — Rise Up, Andra Day
Beach photo by Katelyn Holdych
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