Trainer Robin Arzón On the Near-Death Experience That Changed Her Career


Robin Arzón, widely recognized by her social media handle @robinNYC, wears many hats. She's a New York Times best-selling author, an esteemed fitness instructor at Peloton, the vice president of fitness programming there, and a proud brand ambassador for Adidas. However, a life-altering incident that brought her face-to-face with death in her early twenties is something many may be unaware of.

"At the age of 20, I encountered a life-threatening situation where I was taken hostage at gunpoint," shares Arzón during a conversation at the Future/Fit event organized by Adidas at SXSW. "This harrowing incident has drastically altered my perception of life. Each day since then, I've been living as if it's my last."


In 2002, Arzón was an undergraduate student at NYU and decided to join her friends for a drink in a bar located in East Village, New York. The New York Times reported that on the same night, an AIDS-afflicted man armed with three guns, a sword, and kerosene started a terror spree on the streets. His intent was to die while murdering as many as he could. He first attacked a pedestrian by shooting him in the torso. The wounded man ran into the tiny wine bar where Arzón was present. Regrettably, the armed man followed him in and shot him dead. He then ordered everyone in the venue, approximately 40 people, to crowd at the back of the room. He sprayed them with kerosene with threats of setting them ablaze. During this horrifying event, the gunman selected Arzón as his intermediary with the police. As she was held by her hair, soaked in kerosene, and with a gun and lighter pointed at her head, she attempted to calm him down. Eventually, two of the patrons attacked the man. While one of them got shot, it provided enough time for the police to break in and apprehend the criminal.

Robin Arzón's life-altering incident was sufficiently disconcerting to unhinge anybody's existence, yet Arzón tells us that she soldiered on, persistently following her ambition of a career in law. After accomplishing her law degree and spending seven years practicing at a renowned firm, she found herself at a juncture, reflecting back on her decision to relish each day as if it was her final one. Arzón expresses, "I came to realize that through my time in law, I had dedicated years to a profession that no longer stimulated my passion or made me feel like I was advocating for a cause I truly believed in. It was crucial for me to alter this situation." During the course of seeking this transformation, Arzón discovered an unshakeable love for running. This love was so profound that it persuaded her to relinquish her legal career and reconstruct herself in the realm of fitness. Subsequently, with unyielding determination and relentless hard work, she managed to forge a new identity for herself as a Peloton cycling instructor, running coach, and ultra-marathoner.

Arzón reveals her diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes at the age of 32 was a significant surprise. "It was an immense shock," she admits. "I mistook it for jet lag following an expedition to India. However, it turned out to be a pancreas that had ceased producing insulin." While many would regard this as a massive obstacle, Arzón considered it merely a minor setback. "I was determined to participate in marathons and ultramarathons regardless of any medical condition," she asserts. "The initial question I sought an answer to from my doctor was, 'How can I continue competing in ultramarathons? How will I manage my subsequent 100-mile race?'"

In over 10 years since her near-death encounter, and three years following her diagnosis, Arzón has never stopped participating in countless marathons and ultramarathons. This demonstrates that there's no harm in starting from the bottom as long as you have the bravery to take the first step. "I can deeply connect with the narrative of not considering oneself as an athlete," she confesses. "For a large part of my life, I held this belief, even before I had run my first mile. Nevertheless, you need to pretend till it comes naturally to you, and always remember to begin small." Arzón also shared similar advice for those who might feel too scared to take a risk. "I encourage individuals to measure in terms of time, not distance," she suggests. "It's essential to aim high and work hard, but starting off small and gradually increasing your pace is also acceptable. This is something people often forget." It's clear that this guidance resonates beyond just fitness. Arzón credits her entire professional journey to embracing the most challenging route. "My acquaintance with fear, profound fear, has taught me strength," she admits. "I've continuously reinvented myself and my ultimate aim in life is to play the role of an incredible superhero in my own story."

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