People of the Year 2013 | David Garza

RIDE. Indoor Cycling

A former couch potato turned his life around to become a leader of a fitness movement that’s inspiring the masses.

“This is my therapy session.”

“It’s weekly inspiration.”

“You talk about things I’m dealing with in my life.”

It’s the type of feedback one might expect for a popular priest. Scrawled lovingly on a church comment card and dropped in the collection plate, perhaps accompanying a generous tithe. One can hear the organ playing softly in the background, see the lips turning up in gentle smiles as—one by one—attendees submit their notes of gratitude.

But these words are voiced by a different congregation, and it’s not one meeting at Sunday mass. Rather, these are the devotees of RIDE Indoor Cycling, a new cycling studio that opened up downtown in March. Its charismatic Principal and Master Instructor, David Garza, has taken some of his students out to coffee minutes before our interview. “I asked what keeps them coming back, and this is what they told me,” he answers earnestly. “This is not just exercise for people.” Which seems accurate, given that RIDE’s been open less than a year and every class is close to bursting. But in a city where outdoor cycling abounds and spin classes aren’t too sparse either, what gives? How did RIDE shoot to crazy success almost overnight?

The answer lies with Garza himself. Judging by his bicep alone, you’d never guess he once struggled with weight. “I was the big kid in school,” says Garza. “Twelve years ago in college, I was close to 300 pounds, smoking and drinking. I just totally let myself go.” But fresh out of school, Garza—a newly-minted Texas Tech grad—moved to Austin and fell into a fitness groove, eschewing yo-yo diets for running and pick-up soccer. Jocky friends would pester him about local races until, at age 26, he signed up for the first marathon of his life: the Austin Marathon. Unfortunately, that wasn’t his only first.

“At that time I was also going through a divorce, and fitness saved me,” says Garza. “I was going out at night with my friends, but since I had the marathon coming up, I’d always be the coffee guy, the designated driver. It was a reason to stay healthy and not fall into more destructive ways of coping.” On race day, Garza’s sister drove in from Houston to run with him. As he trudged the last mile up a steep hill, every muscle in his legs screamed to stop—”like a baseball bat cracking over my calves”—and in fact, he almost did. That’s when his sister waved to him from across the course, shouting to keep going. With the finish line in sight, brother and sister crossed together.

“At that moment, a new person emerged,” says Garza. “To this day, I’ve completed 10 consecutive Austin Marathons. I am utterly grateful for what it did to me.”

After that race, Garza—a former vet tech—was inspired to take his career in a fresh direction. Now earning his keep through exercise, he took jobs with Camp Gladiator and Lifetime Fitness where he began to teach fitness classes, including indoor cycling. A recent Austin transplant named Kim Dowling walked in Lifetime’s door, and asked David if he had ever heard of Soul Cycle: the workout favored by handfuls of East and West coast glitterati. Characterized by hip music, hand weights, and a vibe more life coach than drill sergeant, Soul Cycle was Kim’s beloved workout back in New York, and she longed to have something like it in Austin. But after her first session with Garza—who naturally gravitates towards the spiritual in class—she decided she liked what she saw.

That was 2010. Two years later, Dowling and her husband Tim approached him about creating RIDE. “They brought me in as a partner, which was something I had been praying about. To have partial ownership of something,” Garza says. “This was my opportunity to create a real community.”

These days, nobody can deny the community that charges through RIDE’s doors. Classes start like a cannon, with a collective energy that (to return to our church analogy) borders on tent revival. Participants high-five each other as the music blasts, breaking out into crunches, weight lifting, sprints, and on-the-bike dance parties by intervals. For Garza, who teaches about 12 classes a week, the growing fervor around RIDE and the personal success stories it has fostered affirm his basic principle: This is more than exercise.

“I know the journey that people are on, because I’ve been there. And it hurts,” he says. “I know it’s hard to step into a new place where you’re uncomfortable, so I always make a point of telling the new people, ‘Look, a few years ago, I was you. I was the back row guy! Just reverse these roles and I was right where you are!’” he laughs. “But when we step into that room and the door shuts, it’s our time. It’s our hour to be who we want to be.”


Photography by Randal Ford


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