Peloton's Robin Arzón on How She's Raising Her Daughter to Be Brave
If, like me, you've ever sweated with Robin Arzón, chances are that you've emerged from the experience with renewed swagger, feeling inspired and more resilient. You may even have come out of it standing a little straighter, lest that invisible crown on your head slip off. "I only ride with royalty," Arzón likes to say during cycling workouts. As the head instructor and vice president of fitness programming at Peloton, she has earned the title of Queen among her fans for her ability to motivate them across the virtual finish line with her signature mix of tough love, tenacity, and empowerment.
So, in February, when Arzón, 40, announced the arrival of her first child, Athena Amelia, it was no surprise that this strong mama should birth a "full-on goddess warrior," as she describes the little girl. Strength runs in the family, after all. Arzón herself is the daughter of a Puerto Rican father and a Cuban refugee mother who showed her what hustle and grit looked like when she was growing up in Philadelphia. "I don't think you can be raised by a refugee and not have an understanding of the power of the human spirit, the incredible capacity for hard work, and dreaming and falling down and getting back up again," says Arzón, from her apartment in Manhattan, where she lives with her husband, businessman Drew Butler. "Even though I was born in the U.S., I could not ignore it. How dare I not become my ancestors' wildest dreams?"
Add ultramarathoner and best-selling author to her list of accomplishments and she may just be. But when you consider that, as an undergraduate, she was taken hostage, along with about 40 others, at a wine bar in New York City, and held at gunpoint by a man who threatened to light people on fire after spraying them with kerosene, well, Arzón's ability to get back up again becomes awe-inspiring. "I kept telling myself, 'My mother is not getting a call tomorrow that I died—this is not the end to my story,'" she says.
Recovering from the trauma was a slow process, but it steeled her for life. "As time goes on, you have to make a choice whether you're going to be a victim to circumstances or victorious on the other side. And I had to choose the latter," she says. That's how she found running and discovered her own ability to move past any hurdles thrown her way. "Movement became a way to unpack the trauma and start to understand what I really needed," Arzón says. She continued running throughout law school and into a successful job as a corporate litigator. Then, when she felt called to pursue fitness full-time, she ran away from her law career. And she hasn't stopped since.
Even when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2014, and doctors didn't think she should continue doing ultramarathons, she got on insulin, did loads of research, and stayed the course. "The hardest part was dealing with other people's opinions about how I could use my body," she says. "But when one is willing to take risks, which I am, and be the first, if not the only one, who raises the bar, I'm willing to step into that narrative."
As a parent, she is reaching even higher to create a legacy that makes her family proud. "I now have a daughter, and every time I look at her, I'm fueled with so many emotions that I don't want to go back to where I was—not in my body, not in my story, nothing," she says, citing bravery as her new standard for the kind of life she wants to model for her daughter. "When I hear people say, 'Stay in your lane,' I think about how my family had to cross lanes, highways, and so many perceived boundaries to arrive where they are today as very successful people," says Arzón. "I want to widen the aperture of what my daughter's lane could be so that she doesn't have to choose any one identity and can be all things."
Arzón is already doing that by defining motherhood on her terms. "People want to impose their idea of what 'mother' is on me, even though I'm still determining what that is," she says. "So I've decided to make my own inner voice the primary influence." To that end, she has vowed to nurture every part of who she is and not let motherhood consume her: "I made the choice that I was going to be more than a mother so that I can be the best mother," says Arzón, whose own mom, a practicing physician, showed her early on that she didn't need to choose between career and family.
The trick to managing both? Ruthless time management, Arzón says. "I will show up with full presence, full intention, full energy, ready to slay, ready to partner, ready to collaborate. But Mama's got things to do. If something doesn't fit in between the 9-to-5 hustle, it's a 'no,' because I need to spend time with my girl," she adds. "I suspect that when it comes to my daughter's commitments and bringing things to the party, I will be ordering the cupcakes. Bless the parents who do everything from scratch, but I don't think I'm ever going to be that person. And I'm okay with that."
Intense is the word Arzón uses to describe herself. And in order to operate at a high-energy level, even when she's been up all night with a teething baby, she relies on a simple self-care regimen that has gotten her through races, pregnancy, and mom life thus far: "My toolkit is movement, meditation, clean eating, and drinking lots of water," she says. "I find that during the day it really helps to the extent that I can control." And while control is something she holds "sacred," being a runner has taught her that preparation can get you only so far. "You can do all the training runs, have the perfect outfit, the perfect shoes, be ready, but still have a crappy race," she says.
She's certainly learned to surrender to those mom moments that don't go as planned. "I don't think you could have another person's feces on your face and not be humbled. I mean, the first time that my daughter went to the bathroom on me, I was like, 'Oh, this is a different vibe,'" she says with a laugh. "Athena is an easy baby. Still, there are many times when I feel as if I'm unraveling. But we just get through it." Having a solid partnership certainly helps. "Ever since Athena was born, Drew has gotten up in the middle of the night to take shifts with me. That's how we rock," she says. But her secret to not sweating the small stuff runs deeper: "Knowing that I've been through 100 percent of my bad days reminds me that I got this."
"Strong Mama (on sale January 11) is an autobiographical story about an athletic mom telling her baby about how they trained together through pregnancy. It teaches children about movement and the power of being in one's own body," Arzón says. "And it reinforces the idea of modeling self-care: We take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our kids."
Everything You Need to Know About Robin Arzón's Family
No. 1 workout tune: "Mi Gente (Homecoming Live)," by J Balvin, featuring Beyoncé.
Athena's favorite music: Salsa! She really moves around and wiggles.
Bedtime book: Little People, BIG DREAMS, by Isabel Sánchez Vegara.
Mom mantra: Superheroes are real.
Must-have toy: Fisher-Price Baby Biceps kettlebell rattle.
Go-to indulgence: Mindless television, like Too Hot to Handle, Real Housewives, and The Bachelorette.
Bedtime ritual: Winding down with meditation.
Past life: I hope I was a warrior.
Up next: A postnatal workout series for Peloton.
This article originally appeared in Parents Latina's November 2021 issue as "Show of Strength."