The wellness industry has historically catered to white, affluent women — in the businesses and CEOs it champions, in the customers it caters to, and in its prohibitive price points. For women of color, carving out space within this exclusionary framework has typically been a self-driven undertaking — one that centers on expanding the idea of what caring for your mental and physical wellbeing can look like. That’s why, in partnership with Clorox, we’re shining the spotlight on three women who are redefining fitness to be more inclusive, accepting, and representative of everybody.
When commuting, coffee dates, and meetings-that-could-be-emails crammed our pre-pandemic calendars, workout classes often provided a space in which we could sweat out the day’s small annoyances. But for Maria Disla, founder of San Diego-based Pure Indoor Cycling, a series of pivotal life events led her to recognize the fitness studio’s higher potential for connection and community.
Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Brooklyn, Disla started her career in the tech-startup industry, where burnout culture was inherent. But “right out of college, being able to wear several hats at a growing company was exciting. I was willing to put all my energy into work,” she says. So when an opportunity to relocate and open her team’s West Coast office arose, Disla took full advantage. Initially, she was excited about the weather and being able to wrap at 4 p.m., but as the client roster continued to expand, the stress piled up — so much so that Disla developed a heart condition at 27 years old.
“The disruption of a health scare was the reality check I needed to reassess what direction I wanted to take with my life,” Disla says. Resigning from the tech industry and moving to San Diego, Disla retreated to where she felt the most empowered: in the saddle. “While spin was my preferred movement of choice, I noticed a lack of diversity in the cycling classes I was taking,” she says. Soon, she started to imagine not only what representation would look like, but how the ideal class experience would make her feel. Would the motivation from the coach be condescending or encouraging? Was there an opportunity to build community? At the time, downtown San Diego was slowly developing, and the closest spin studio was about a 20-minute drive from the city. Accustomed to New York’s endless exercise class options, Disla put ease and accessibility at the forefront as she set out to create the inclusive, centrally located studio she wanted to see.
Thus, Pure Indoor Cycling was born. “I always say that I don’t own a fitness studio, I own a place of community,” Disla says. When asked what sets her studio apart from the rest, she brings up the “pure moment,” a philosophy that’s less about working hard than unplugging, being present, and moving your body in a welcoming environment.
“At the top of 2020, we were thinking about how to ring in our upcoming fourth anniversary and exploring opening a second location,” she says. In March, however, shutdown mandates were declared and within a week, the studio lost 70% of its membership. Though the business had taken a considerable hit, Disla’s top priority was maintaining community connection. Within 24 hours, Pure Indoor Cycling pivoted quickly to Instagram Live, offering options for members with and without bikes, three times a week. In the weeks following, this quick-thinking mindset extended to initiatives such as a monthly flexible membership, a proprietary on-demand digital experience, and bike and weight rentals as a response to the national workout-equipment shortage.
Fluctuating state rules kept Disla on her toes, and when it was announced that socially distanced workouts could be held outdoors, she faced another crossroads. “By the summer, every fitness outlet occupied the park, and with stationary bikes and a sound system in tow, space was limited,” she says. Again, the community was her solution. The studio’s building management heard about her search for space and offered up a vacant garage. With green turf, elbow grease, and silent disco to ease noise complaints, Disla engaged members with this new format for nearly five months during lockdown. “More than my optimism was the awareness that I had created a space that offered an escape from a very new, and very stressful time in everyone’s life,” she says. “The way our community received us got me through one of the hardest years of my life, and it’s the reason why I got into fitness in the first place: to spark a positive change in people’s lives."
In preparation for the studio’s reopening this month, Disla moves forward with a strengthened belief in herself and those around her. “We’re not just defined by the physical space we might occupy, but the personal connection we share,” she says. “This is the guiding light I aim to keep sight of as we navigate, grow, and inject positivity through fitness.”