In 2006, Stacey Griffith was working as a fitness instructor, holding down several different jobs, when she made a very important new contact. She met Elizabeth Cutler, who had dreamed up a new type of cycling gym. Spinning had been around for about a decade at the time but didn’t have much momentum, especially on the East Coast. “Elizabeth took my class in the Hamptons, and we just fell in love with each other’s spirit,” says Griffith. “She said, ‘We’re not open yet, but I’d love for you to teach for us when we are. In about October of the same year, I got the call and moved to New York City. We had 26 bikes in a former funeral parlor.” That little gym? SoulCycle, which now has 84 locations across the country.
SoulCycle has, of course, become more than just a place to burn off calories. It’s a cultural phenomenon—a nationally recognized name, shorthand for a workout that’s not just a workout but an immersive emotional experience. “I think we nurture and motivate and inspire people,” says Griffith. “We ask people to—for 45 minutes, three days a week—spend time aligning their thoughts, their heart rate and their lungs, and answer questions about how they want to live. When you line up all those different pathways, that’s when you actually create change in your life.”
Griffith says she was essentially “raised by coaches,” given how much time she spent playing sports as a kid. “My mom says that I came out of the womb swinging a tennis racket,” she jokes. At age 18, Griffith landed her first teaching job in a YMCA, when she was asked to teach an abs class. “Once I got a taste of being in charge of the music and the activity, it really snapped in my head that I wanted to be a fitness instructor.” She took her first spin class at age 27 and started to lead classes two years later. And teaching is clearly an innate talent for Griffith: Midway through our interview, she leads me through a quick alignment and breathing exercise.
She’s come a long way since that first YMCA class, both in her skills and on a personal level. “Before SoulCycle, I was not a sober-living person,” says Griffith. “There were times when I’d show up places high on drugs, hungover or drunk. But in the last 11 years of my sobriety, I can guarantee you that 99.9 percent of the time I walk through that door, I am bringing my best self. SoulCycle was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I think I matched that opportunity by cutting out the things that were making my life not great. Friends who remember my wild days are like, ‘Oh man, I miss crazy Stacey.’ She was fun, but this Stacey is one who’ll always show up for you. That’s the best feeling ever.”
Another great feeling? Inspiring women to follow in her foot pedals. “Now there are so many females leading the way; I hope that I can reach young girls who might want to pursue a career in fitness. I’ve written a book. I’ve opened studios. I’ve been working to impact lives.”
Griffith, who now teaches close to 900 classes a year, has a slew of fond career memories, including touring with Oprah on “The Life You Want” and speaking about branding at Columbia Business School. The latter was especially impactful for her. “It was crazy,” she says, “because I was a high school dropout. And I had so much shame about my lack of education. But after teaching for 20 years and helping create this brand, I stepped out of that shame box. My self-awareness has elevated to a whole new level.”