ALBANY, Ga. -- It's common knowledge around Southwest Georgia, but it took a 43-year-old lawyer who found an exciting way to generate the energy he needed to keep up with his two young kids to express Barbara Hoots' impact on the spinning boom that has inundated the region.
"Barbara is spinning here," Patrick Eidson said before participating in the recent Kona Triathlon simulation at Tony's Gym.
A compact bundle of energy whose motor is always revved to high gear, Hoots has indeed become the high priestess of the indoor cycling revolution. And while she's revered for turning spinning classes at Tony's into an event that gym owner Tony Powell calls "the hottest ticket in town," Hoots' growing sphere of influence has stretched far beyond the reaches of her chosen home to a global community that is easily swept up in her passion.
"At its essence, spinning is a mind-body connection," said Hoots, a local certified spinning instructor whose passion for the activity has her head-deep in a worldwide expansion that is only just beginning. "It's group fitness for one person. It's something that anyone -- from CEOs to MDs to housewives -- can do. You can strip away all pretense in spinning; you don't have to be awesome.
"From the lighting to the music to the actual cycling, it's a total experience. No one wins in a spin class. It's not about competition."
Hoots should know. She took a local spinning class shortly after outdoor enthusiast Johnny Goldberg ("Johnny G") and his good friend John Baudhuin (who co-founded Mad Dogg Athletics) came up with the concept circa 1992, but her passion wasn't ignited until she made several trips to Miami to train under master instructors.
When she fell for spinning, she went all in.
SPINNING A NEW LOOK
"I came back to Albany and asked Tony if he'd give us some space for a spinning room," Hoots said. "He had an area that I think had been for women only that he said we could use. I recruited John Medlin, who's a phenom with a skill saw, to redesign the room and started negotiating with others who could help with the makeover.
"We redid the whole room -- the look, the lighting, the sound system -- added a few more bikes and once we found acceptance in the community, we couldn't keep people out. Now we have a waiting list for all our classes."
Powell, who opened Tony's 29 years ago this May, has seen every fitness fad and fashion that's made the rounds come and go at his popular gym. But he says he's never quite seen anything go over the way spinning has since Hoots' program evolved into a local craze.
"We've offered spinning here since it started; I think we started with 15 or so bikes," he said. "It did OK, but once Barbara started teaching and making changes to our spinning room, it's just become a phenomenon. It's such a unique activity; from the atmosphere of the class to the state-of-the-art sound system, spinning is the total fitness experience.
"Spin classes here have become the hottest ticket in town. If you don't get to a class a little early, you're not going to get a seat. And we're up to 55 bikes."
Hoots' passion for spinning became so all-consuming, she created her own spin room design business "as a hobby." That hobby has taken her to such locales as Jamaica, London, Nashville and the Fort Bliss Army Base in El Paso, Texas, to design and create the perfect spin studios.
She's currently working with the Boston-based Spynergy Consulting team to create a turn-key business model for spin facilities.
"The new trend is to design and create the perfect spin studio for an area," Hoots said. "We'll do everything from the carpet specs to the sound system to the music to teaching instructors how to make their students fall in love with spinning."
In the small amount of spare time she actually has now, Hoots still teaches spinning classes at Tony's. Her "students" include world-class athletes who compete in motocross, mixed martial arts, tennis, running, triathlons and basketball as well as college football players, jujitsu practitioners, pro cyclists, housewives and mothers.
And, every now and then, even a lawyer or two.
"I'd gotten back in shape, lost 125 pounds through diet and exercise at Tony's, but I was looking for a challenge," Eidson said. "I'd heard a lot about Barbara's spinning classes, and I decided to give it a try. When I made it through that first class, I considered it quite an accomplishment.
"But I challenged myself to get better, to push myself to reach some new goals. Now I'm certified to teach spinning, and I have the energy to keep up with my young children. Spending quality time with them is a gift I've been given."
Hoots hears such testimonials all the time. But there's one that is especially close to her heart.
"There was a young girl who came to one of my classes who was extremely overweight," Hoots said. "When that class ended, she came to me with tears streaming down her face. She told me this was the first time she'd ever done a group exercise. She hated herself, hated the way she looked.
"She said, 'Can you believe I did this?' She was so happy. She continued to take the classes and ended up losing 125 pounds. She turned her life around."