KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Before class began at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Rhonda Etheridge spent a few minutes talking to her students individually about seat positions and adjusted of few of their pedal straps. Then she turned down the lights, closed the blinds and blasted the stereo.
“Who runs this … who run this,” she shouted on beat to Beyonce’s Who Run The World while walking through the stationary bikes. “Who run this ... who run this.”
Rhonda spun her hands in the air, motioning for the ladies to spin faster. The 48-year-old grandmother danced her way through the bikes one more time before getting on her own in the front of the class and instructed them to turn their wheels one more time.
“Part of my goal is to be a beacon of an example of a light to show people that you can overcome obstacles,” said Rhonda during an interview, under the classes disco ball. “You can overcome grief. You can overcome being unhealthy.”
It’s a life lesson Rhonda said she learned during a tough time in her life years ago. On July 13, 2010, her son took his life.
“When my son passed away it was if someone took an elephant and sat it on my chest,” she said with tears coming out of her eyes. “I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe.”
Months later that year, Rhonda was diagnosed as pre-diabetic she said. She had irregular bowel syndrome, chronic gastritis and was teetering on the line of high-blood pressure.
“I didn’t want to die,” Rhonda said, continuing to cry. “I didn’t want to be sick and so that’s how all this happened. But I wanted to find a way to put life back in myself.”
In an effort to not become reliant on medication Rhonda started to work out, she said. She signed up for a spin class at a local YMCA and hated it. So her husband Tony joined her and she stuck with it. She continued for years, got certified and was asked to teach classes there.
“They gave me the lunchtime [slot],” she said. “I only had 2 students. But you know what I’m unique. I think I have something special. And so that class grew from two people to 35 people.”
She also took Zumba classes in her spare time she said, and ran half marathons, 5Ks and 10Ks. She also started eating healthier and drinking more teas and smoothies. Over the course of time, she lost 70 pounds.
“Sunday morning after working out for a whole week, I want to sleep but she like ‘hey lets go for a run,” Tony said. “I’m like I want to spend time with my wife, so I got to get up, put on my jogging clothes and go for a run.”
Rhonda and Tony have been married for 12 years and she calls him her cheerleader, she said. He’s been by her side through the good times and bad ones, including the time the Y let her go. She was devastated because she credited the Y for giving her her confidence back.
“'No, the Y gave you a building',” she remembered Tony saying to her. “‘The Y gave you some bikes. The Y didn’t give you, you. The Y didn’t give you your determination.’ And I said ‘but life sucks’ and he said ‘life doesn’t suck, life cycles.’”
So Rhonda soldiered on, she said. She began hosting spin classes on her porch at her home on the northside of town. Then she and Tony bought and renovated a corner building on Mills Street and Crosstown Parkway. On April 28, they opened LifeCycles Studio and Hair Salon, with not only the intention of revitalizing the Edison neighborhood — one of the city’s forgotten areas — but to also promote health and wellness to their clients.
“My goal is to help everybody lift that elephant off their chests so that they can breathe and breath life into themselves,” she said smiling.