*You better lose yourself in the music, the moment,
You own it, you better never let it go,
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow,
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo!

Eminem recorded this heart pounding lyric back in 2002. It was the hit heard around the world as it was the first rap song to nab an Academy Award for best original song.

Veronica Hendrix

On any given week, 24-hour Fitness spin instructor Tanja Hester plays this tune during her 6:00 a.m. class at the La Cienega club. The intense beat of the song and poignant lyrics are all-consuming and create the kind of vibe that pushes her morning cyclists to new fitness heights. The song is a club favorite and her favorite too. She says this song personifies her belief that when opportunity knocks, you must seize the moment and never let it go.

That was her thinking about eight year ago. The opportunity to instruct a spin class at a new club in the heart of Los Angeles was appealing and full of endless possibilities. The 24-hour Magic Johnson Sport Club was about to open. I remember it well because I had just moved into the area and signed up for a full membership to “get my fitness on.”

What I didn’t know is that the spin classes almost didn’t happen. Said Tanja, “When the gym first opened, they weren’t planning on having spin classes because the results of a demographic assessment found that the residents in neighborhood weren’t really interested in spin classes.” But 24-hour Fitness decided otherwise and bought lots of bikes and put lots of spinning on schedule. It was a hunch that paid off. Today the spin classes are the most popular classes at the gym.

It was a bit of a rocky start for the idealistic, Green Bay, Wisconsin transplant who had been teaching classes in West Hollywood where the demographic was predominately white and gay.  The new gym was located in a neighborhood that was the polar opposite – a mix of professional and working class African Americans from Baldwin Hills, View Park, Ladera Heights and the surrounding communities. In the beginning they were a tough crowd and gave her a little push back with her play list of dance music that didn’t seem to translate as well there as it did in West Hollywood.

“Half the people left before class even ended and I thought oh boy this isn’t going to last,” recalled Tanja. “It was a hard obstacle to get past but at the same time I was determined not to give up.”

Class members didn’t cease in giving her feedback about her music.  It wasn’t long before she found her voice and a formula that worked. And in that process something else began to happened: people found they were getting results and classes started to grow as the word got out. Now those seats are coveted spots for 30 ready-to-work-it cyclists at 6:00 a.m. each and every morning.

“There have been a number of people who have said when they  first started coming to this class they weighed 60 pounds more than they do now,  were taking medication for diabetes and high cholesterol  and now have been able to get off  their meds,” Tanja said.  “It wasn’t one or two people coming up and saying this it was a lot of people and everyone one of them had a similar story. I think when you are in the presence of these kinds of results you just can’t help but be inspired.”

Inspiring others to do their best and be their best is really at the heart of what drives Tanja. It’s a quality she has become known for around 24-hour Fitness and one that has resonated with those in her class. Each moment with her is as much about developing strength, good form, endurance and reaching your fitness goals as it is about developing a stronger and more positive inner person. It is what has made a difference in my fitness journey and in my life journey. She’s helped me see that everyday is a new opportunity to challenge and surprise myself not only in class but outside of class.

“Somewhere along the way my instruction stopped being work harder to meet your fitness goals or your weight loss goals. It became about work harder so you can be your healthiest, happiest self,” Tanja said.

It was all in her words, so powerful and resonant that she extolled as she guided us through the most vigorous of workouts varying in intensity and speed.

Ride with purpose.

Remember why you are here today and what got you on this bike especially this early in the morning.

Don’t let what happened  last year or the last 10 years determine what you do right now. Let it be what you want right now that determines that.

You are stronger than you think.

Trust yourself; you can do more than you know.

These sayings became known as “Tanja-isms” phases she coined not only to get us though the insanely intense workout but phases she intended to be transcendent, analogies we could apply to the challenges and obstacles in our daily lives.

“It’s not just about the 45 minutes we spend on the bike,  it’s about how this fits into your entire life and how you can be happier, more at peace and more motivated every day,” Tanja emphasized.

Tanja has transformed so many lives and accomplished so much during her tour at 24-hour Fitness. Her efforts have contributed toward the La Cienega club earning the distinction as one of the most challenging clubs in the district. And she’s created a community of “spin snobs” –  those who expect to be challenged and work hard in and outside of class – a distinction I wear unapologetically.

It is a new year and new things come with it, including new opportunities. Tanja is seizing yet another opportunity that will take her and her husband out of Los Angeles. She leaves behind the spin community she loving helped to create. She says the decision to leave was a difficult one driven by watching her dad deal with a muscular disease he was diagnosed with before he reached the age of 40.

“Since I saw my dad’s illness progress I’ve always had this mindset of if there’s an amazing opportunity before me I have to seize it,” said Tanja adding that her time at 24-hour Fitness has been one of the greatest experiences of her life.

It’s the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new year with Tanja leaving a few words of encouragement and inspiration to motivate you  to get on the path to fitness:

“I don’t care if you are 300 pounds and you are just getting off the couch for the first time in 30 years you can still go do this as long as you don’t expect to see a complete change in one day. If you are patient and have a positive attitude you will be able to see the change that you want to see.”

And lastly, I have to quote her here:

Everything is just about motivation. It’s about what you want, how badly do you want it and if are you willing to stay positive and stay focused on it – and trust yourself in the process. If you do those things you really can achieve whatever it is you want.

And for those of us in class, she’s left something else, an indelible reminder that she was there and is riding with us every day – she’s left a rust spot on the music console in class where her water bottle use to sit. “You can’t forget me now,” she mused.

Tanja I won’t ever forget you.

Veronica Hendrix is a syndicated columnist and feature writer whose work has covered the span of the human continuum – from clinical trials of male contraceptives, to the gang violence. She is the owner of Bromont Avenue Foods. She is the author of “Red Velvet Gourmet Spice Rub and Seasoning Heart Healthy Recipes.” Visit http://bromontavefoods.com for more information.  For comments, interviews, speaking engagements or moderator requests please send an email to [email protected]