“If I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go out fighting.”
It all started when he was just a kid, and his best friend’s older brothers introduced him to drugs and alcohol. “They thought it would be fun to see what effect drugs and alcohol would have on a 10-year-old,” Shaw says. “I tried everything. There was always that desire to disregard my well-being in the hopes of pleasing other people, constantly trying to fill that void.”
He eventually reached a breaking point and called his father.
“I said, ‘Dad, I think I’m gonna kill myself,’” he recalls. “And my father responded, ‘If that’s what you have to do, that’s what you have to do.’ And he hung up on me. That was the moment that it started to turn. I decided that I had had enough.”
Shaw attended an AA meeting, and never looked back. Today, he hasn’t had a drink in 30 years. He got a job working in a rehab facility, where he would talk to others about making positive changes. But he realized that since he had gotten sober, he was relying on other risky habits.
“One of the things you do with clients is redirection. So if we’re sitting in a place and a client’s having a hard time, I’ll say, ‘Come on, let’s go have a cigarette. Let’s go have something to eat,’” he says. “And it was cigarette, food, cigarette, food—then all of a sudden, I looked up one day and I was 300 pounds, smoking four packs of cigarettes a day.”
Shaw’s doctor didn’t sugarcoat his health issues. He told Shaw that his heart was going to explode: “You’ll be dead before you hit the ground.”
That same day, SoulCycle opened their first California studio in West Hollywood.
“The first class I signed up for, I picked a bike near the door, so that if I died during class, they would have an easier time getting my body out of the room,” he says. “But during that class, I remembered back to what I’d gone through in my life and I thought, ‘I’m not gonna die from being fat. If I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go out fighting.’”
Within four months, Shaw lost 100 pounds and became a fixture at his local studio. His fellow riders would call in, asking if he was signed up. He wasn’t just working out and losing weight—he was inspiring those around him.
Then one day an instructor asked him if he’d have any interest in teaching? “This was only 120 days after I was a 300-pound person about to die,” Shaw says. “I left seven days later with a one-way plane ticket to New York, and I said, ‘I’m home.’”
These days, you can find Shaw motivating people in SoulCycle studios all over New York City.
“Getting sober’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “This is a pretty close second. Whatever you’re struggling with, my first and best advice is to reach out. Find your tribe. Find your place of healing. Reach out to a therapist, reach out to your friends—don’t think you have to go this alone.”