It starts with a smile. Smile at people on the street. And if you have no one around you to smile at, look in the mirror and smile at yourself! - Keith, Soul Cycle Instructor and Cheltenham High School Track and Field Coach
I badly sprained and possibly fractured my ankle on a run last November and I immediately knew I wouldn’t be running again for a while. Where was I going to get all of my energy out?! Luckily for my mind and body and unluckily for my wallet, Soul Cycle was around the corner. I took Keith’s class once and his positivity was so infectious that I just had to be near it every week. He was nice enough to sit down with me and talk about everything from Soul Cycle auditions to being a vegetarian to positive energy. And today, July 25th, is his 2-year Souliversary!
When did you start training to audition for Soul Cycle?
I got accepted into the NYC program on May 15th, 2017. I commuted 5 days a week on the Mega Bus from Philly. They know me by name now haha! Most people stay in NYC during the training program, but I had a son on the way and needed to be home. The training program is a huge commitment and it was really tough for me to find the motivation to wake up and go to NYC every day, not knowing whether or not I’d be hired as an instructor once it all came to an end.
Did you have to leave another job to train?
Luckily, I just finished up my second season coaching track at Cheltenham High School so I had the summer to do this. I was also working at Sweat Fitness.
What made you want to become an instructor at Soul Cycle?
I was a trainer at Sweat Fitness, but was trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. A friend of mine from growing up in Cheltenham, Chris Pipken, was a senior Soul Cycle instructor in LA and encouraged me to start riding. I took his class when he was a brand-new instructor. At first I wasn’t sure, because as a runner, I was like…. ‘um I don’t bike’.
Keith performing the high hurdle box drill
And it’s a bit dancey too haha!
Yea it’s dancey and I’m known in my group as the one without rhythm haha! But for some reason I can find the rhythm on that bike in that room. And when I figured that out and with encouragement from Chris, I decided to audition.
I can relate to feeling like I only have rhythm on that bike haha! Was it weird that it’s mostly women in your classes and teaching around you? Is it intimidating at all?
Not for me actually. I was really close to my grandma before she passed and I feel comfortable around women. It was nothing for me, so I was like ‘let’s go!’ And women work hard and I like that.
So then you were going back and forth for training? What was a typical day?
We just learned the secrets of soul, and we rode the bike. I caught the 8am bus to NYC and the 5pm bus to Philly. I’d sit in 2 hours of traffic on the way home. I would pass OUT and wake up and realize we only moved 3 blocks. Training was tough because of my situation and because I had to be home to support my girlfriend who was pregnant.
So you had your training and then came home and had your almost-dad job.
Yea it’s crazy. It never stops and it still hasn’t stopped. Now that I have a kid.
Keith and his son at Soul Cycle in Ardmore, 2019
Did you ever think about just not doing it?
Yes, I thought about it even throughout training. I thought ‘I don’t know if I can do this. I’m so tired. I’m so drained.’ I talked to my mom and she said if it’s something that I want that she knew I could do it. I realized that was true, and then I just surrendered to my circumstances and said whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I just rode the waves.
I recognized that in college, with engineering. There were times I was just going to be up studying until 3 am and had to be up at 8am. I used to stress about it, which made me feel worse. Eventually I realized that I just needed to surrender to the situation and be happy to be where I am. And that’s kind of how I feel in Soul Cycle class sometimes haha. You just have to do it.
Surrender to the room and to the bike. Just know that it’s not going to be forever. Enjoy the atmosphere, the sweat, the push, the pain, and you’ll come out stronger on the other side. My job is to make sure that you get the most out of your workout so you can leave class and say that was a really hard or that you had a really great workout.
What do you do when you have off days and still remain strong and energized for class?
A lot of the things I say in class are things I say to myself or even am saying it to myself in that moment. I know this moment is tough, but look to your right or your left, I’ve got your back and your neighbor has your back.
I think people don’t realize how hard an instructors job is.
Yea it’s tough. And I don’t even have a hard schedule because I don’t have early mornings and late evenings. I’m blessed to be in Philly and surrounded by such strong Soul Cycle instructors. I look at their line up and I’m just like, I don’t know how they’re walking lol! I get motivation from them to keep pushing, and them from me as well. They say to me that they don’t know how I do this job with a young child at home and no sleep. We all vibe off of each other and our community there is tight.
Keith racing as a senior for Cheltenham HS Boys Track Team in 2009
I saw on your Instagram that you are a vegetarian! Why did you decide to be a vegetarian and how does it help you with your daily routine?
Yes, I am! I was the last person you’d expect to do this because I’m a total burger person. haha. But my friends and I decided we’d try being vegetarian for 2 weeks, and then it turned into a month, and people slowly dropped off, and I just never stopped. I really love it. Firstly, I do it for animal rights since I’m a huge animal lover and secondly, for health. I was healthy before, but vegetarianism has just given me a clearer mind. One weird this is that I used to have CRAZY dreams, and now I don’t. I haven’t had any since I became vegetarian.
What’s your favorite recipe?
I love making black bean burgers!
You’re also a coach for the boys Cheltenham Track and Field team. What do you coach there?
I coach boys’ sprints and field events, like jumping.
How long have you been coaching for?
4 years. I’ve been the assistant coach to the head coach who has been there for 40 years. He’s one of my inspirations for being vegetarian (he’s vegetarian). He was raw vegan for a long time.
photo for stay cool training
What’s your favorite part about coaching?
The young minds. I see myself in a lot of them. I guess it’s a way for me to try to help prevent them from making the small mistakes that I made and instead help steer them in a direction that would be best for their future.
What do you say to motivate them?
If we have a hard workout, I tell them to surrender to it. I remind them that they CHOSE TO BE HERE, that they have a goal and that I’m their friend and mentor. I’ll even hop in a workout with them just to show them that it’s doable. I have to stay in good shape to do this haha! I don’t know how my legs are still working. We have a crazy workout today. 300’s. This is the championship time of season so they’ll be on the clock. They need to do a 300 at 38 or 39 seconds. They’re good and a talented group. And there are some football guys in there so they’re athletic and can handle it.
What do you get out of coaching?
It’s a release for me. Being there for others is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
I can tell from your Instagram! Like the story about the Uber.
Haha yes! He was so lost and confused, and I was like, don’t worry I’ll help you and get you where you need to be, so I ordered him an Uber. He turned out to be a Cheltenham grad and he wrote a letter thanking me!
photo by Brandon Bing
That shows you what kind of impact small things have. sometimes I find myself being angry in situations or at people that are out of my control. I try to remind myself that I don’t know what they’re going through or what they know, which helps. What would be the first step to feel more positive?
You can’t control every situation. Just let go and spread your wings and catch the breeze and soar wherever the wind takes you. You just got to BE. Just move. It’s normal to get nervous when you want something and you’ve worked so hard for it. But we tend to forget the work we put in before. This is what we trained for, so just relax.
Training is a process, just like life is a process. It’s about letting go and channeling positive energy. To me, it starts with a smile. Smile at people on the street. And if you have no one around you to smile at, look in the mirror and smile at yourself!
Keith's favorite nosh bar is peanut.