Sweat Stories: Simone Swonek

Spin   Community   Life

Spinunity is my version of church. I am not a religious person, or even particularly spiritual.  But I get it; the need to feel connected to something bigger than yourself.  The comfort in believing we are not alone, we are in this together, we all share something. Uplifting music, a sense of euphoria- I get all of this from spin. 

They asked if I would write a bit about my own personal story and connection to spin. Sorry if this comes across as more of a Dear Diary entry (minus the teenage angst and boy crushes!). What I would like to touch on is how Spinunity helped heal my battered soul and gave me a spot to reconnect to myself. 

To get to know me, you’ve got to know a little bit about where I came from. There are eight kids in my family, and we are a loud and rowdy bunch. My Mom just loved babies and my Dad came from an eight child family himself so it all worked out to us having a very full house. And we all liked it that way. The more friends that came over, the more neighbourhood kids that were in and out and all around, the better. My Dad was a great guy. He was my single greatest influence growing up. A very strong sense of family was instilled in us from day one; the big ones took care of the little ones, all the way down the line. We ate dinner together every single night, usually only missing out for a practice or game. Around the dinner table is where we always came together, no matter how many different directions each of us were going in any given day. And it wasn’t about the food, it was about the togetherness. Even after all my siblings grew up and moved out, my Dad still cooked dinner for all of us, every single Sunday. He enjoyed cooking and we all enjoyed eating for free :) He cooked for a small army of people regardless, so you were encouraged to bring a friend or two. There was always a sense of togetherness, inclusion and family. 

I had an awesome childhood. You got up in the morning, you went outside and you played. We had a brood of kids in our neighborhood of varying ages and we just hung out - made up games, rode bikes, climbed trees, walked on fences, wrecked stuff, got in trouble. My Dad always planted a huge garden in our backyard, and every spring we helped plant the seeds. In the fall we ran through the corn husks as they got tall and ate carrots with most of the dirt washed off of them, and helped cut and freeze piles of beans and peas. If you got hurt, you ‘walked it off’ or ‘rubbed some dirt on it’. If you didn’t like something, or didn’t feel like helping, “tough shit”. I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted, I just had to work for it. If you didn’t have money, my Dad had this great way of not giving you any; but helping you find something to do to earn it. He was clever at helping you realize your full potential, and it was expected that you would strive for your full potential, because anything less was laziness. It was a teaching that you were capable of being great, so you should do yourself proud.   

Baseball was my greatest love growing up. I spent all my summers sweaty, dirty, slightly sunburnt and completely happy. I flourish in a team atmosphere; it’s so fulfilling to me when everyone contributes their own individual skills to make the group succeed. My Dad coached me for most of my baseball years. He wasn’t necessarily a baseball fanatic, but he was a mentor at heart. One life altering memory was when he was teaching us the importance of being a team, and believing in ourselves. He had a girl sit in a chair, and the rest of the team put one hand on one of the legs and tried to lift the chair up. It was hard, we could barely lift it. Then we all took a moment with our eyes closed, and envisioned lifting the chair: we imagined how it would feel in our hand, the strength it would take our muscles, and imagined the chair rising. Then we tried again, and that chair was so easy to lift, it was like it jumped off the ground. That is a real life tool: visualization. Seeing what you want, and how you can make it happen truly works. 

Fast forward some years and I have three kids. My body has been a baby motel and buffet for six years and I am run down. And as much as I am supposed to love being a stay at home Mom, it’s only about 60/40. I always loved working, achieving, and excelling but let me tell you - kids don’t care about any of that. The pay sucks, the hours suck and there is no glowing yearly review with performance bonus. The job demands patience and I have very little of it. It’s a thankless job, but tough shit, it’s mine and you deal. So I am floundering a little bit and then boom - my Dad dies. I equate it to losing my gravitational pull. In my Dad was this awesome home planet that my entire family orbited around and then suddenly, he was gone and I was just drifting around feeling off course. And my years of training to be an emotionless soldier failed me. I was always able to compartmentalize my feelings, close up those boxes and bury them deep, deep down where ulcers come from! And I couldn’t do that, the grief kept spilling out. But equal to the sadness, my other number one feeling was thankfulness. Not regret or any other unhelpful emotion. Thankful for it all - the upbringing, the family, the stability, the strength. Thankful for his time and the countless hours he was available and present for me, or any of us. That he legitimately tried to make us into good, contributing members of society, and taught us so many tools to handle whatever life may throw at us. All I could do was just keep going, one foot in front of the other, just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

There I was, drifting - sad and just trying to navigate my new life A.D. And I still had this blown-out, former version of my own body and I was feeling lost. In general, I am a motivated person but wasn’t feeling particularly inspired to do any fitness stuff to get back on track. Several years ago, I had done some drop-in spin at a rec entre and really liked it. I saw the Groupon for Spinunity and thought I would give it a try. I don’t think it was love at first sight, but I had a month pass and was going to make the most of it. Never mind the fact that the physical exertion helped me to finally sleep at night, the spinning was making my pre-kid clothes fit again.

Spinunity has this part in class called Gratitude, and I don’t remember when it started happening, exactly, but I began talking to my Dad during this. It seemed fitting, as I associated him with a feeling of thankfulness anyways. There was something about the way I would work myself so hard, stripping bare all of my emotional layers, surpassing all my own self imposed limitations, to this intense single minded edge of consciousness. It just seemed like that was a place that he could maybe hear me, I felt so raw. These are the times I would tell my Dad about my daughter having her first baseball game, or my other daughters first soccer goal. I would tell him about all the family obstacles we were trying to overcome without him, asking him all the questions I knew he would have perfect answers to. I asked him my gardening questions, and told him all about my own expanded garden, and how I had come full circle; with my girls helping me plant the seeds. I let him know I had taken a vacation, using all the airmiles he had earned for me. I cried during Gratitude a lot during those first few months. Cue loving the dark room, loud music and sweaty faces that can easily hide tears. And all this time, I am slowly healing. Physically I am getting stronger and feeling better in my clothes, and the endorphin rush after every class helps keep my grief boxes closed. Mentally I am working through all this stuff in my head, thinking, “just keep spinning, just keep spinning”. Then one day, my Dad answered me. 

I had found the therapy that worked for me. My daughters knew I ‘talked to Grandpa at spin’. My daughter specifically asked me one day, “are you going to talk to Grandpa today?” And I said yes, if I had anything to tell him.  The words were hanging there, spoken out loud. And later that same night at spin, when Gratitude started, the song that was played was THE song from his funeral. The song that my niece had sung a live acoustic version of while her boyfriend played his guitar, at his funeral. It was amazing and heartbreaking. And it was the first time I had ever heard that song played at Gratitude. As soon as the first chord struck I was happy crying. I felt so validated, like he was telling me he was listening. And that wasn’t the last “perfect coincidence” I have had at Spinunity with the music, like my old man is at the controls himself.  Spin was my rehabilitation. It fulfils my spiritual needs- I always come out of there feeling so zen. It helps make me a better and happier person. It gives me a sense of community with like minded individuals. It gives me an outlet to help cope with all the things; grief, my Moms fourth battle against cancer, my grandmothers dementia, my brothers stroke, my crazy children, my (ever shrinking!) Mom body. It gives me an overwhelming and humbling sense of gratitude for life, and all the things my body is capable of. 

I don’t need to talk to my Dad as much now. Usually I use my feeling of mental serenity to send energy back out into the world. I visualize someone else in the room, in the world, having a good day; because they came into some unexpected positive energy. I think if my strong mind and legs can just spin hard for 20 seconds, my brother will have a great 20 minutes without his stroke symptoms bothering him. If I can give a solid 30 seconds of exertion, my Mom will have 30 minutes in a day where she doesn’t think about the fact that her husband died, her Mom is sick and she is starting chemo soon. Any spare positive vibes I have, I send out and hope they find someone who needs them. I remember the power of positive visualization that my Dad taught me. And above all, I send thanks out to anyone that has been part of my journey. Anyone who wakes up and goes out and does their thing, never knowing or realizing how their thing might be positively impacting someone else. And any time I feel like giving up, I think “tough shit - just keep spinning, just keep spinning”.

All photos provided by WeAreYEG.

#ridersforlife #spinunity #sweatstories