Get to Know: Alison Zemanek

Breakaway Cycle & Strength Studio owner and instructor Alison Zemanek didn’t exactly picture herself running a business, nor did she quite identify particularly as being a role model for fitness, once upon a time. Her journey to launching Colorado’s first performance-based cycling studio–founded on an ethos of universal welcome and respect–was more a merging of both motivation and chance. A combination of keeping drive alive while adjusting for the evolving demands and responsibilities of family, work and school, and an openness to take on board what life offered up along the way.

“As a child I was always very active,” Alison shares. “Then, in high school, there was a shift. Partly hormonal, partly friend groups. I stopped regular structured exercise and kept eating the same way. I put on weight, and I struggled mentally and emotionally. That’s part of why I left Buffalo.”

A few years after graduating high school, Alison moved to California for university. She didn’t yet have clear goals, but she did have a lot of internal questions, and found quietly encouraging answers from simply giving herself a fresh start and new location. “I didn’t have a car, and started riding my bike everywhere,” she says. “I added a lot more vegetables into my diet, going vegetarian for awhile. But the biggest, most significant change was, I stopped thinking about health in terms of diet or structured workouts. It became a lifestyle–just living and eating well. That’s when I settled into a healthy weight for my body and a healthy outlook for me.”

At school, Alison tried out different concentrations in seeking a major. She thought about business, and had an aptitude for it. She was drawn to exercise physiology as a discipline, but says the chemistry classes were not her bag. Upon trying out a philosophy class, however, she fell in love. “I loved it and was good at it,” Alison says. “I remember I had a counselor who recommended getting out of it, because there wasn’t a clear career path connected to it. But I kept at it. And it was worth it for me, because I’d found something I was good at. That’s important–finding things you can excel at and enjoy.”

Alison may not have turned her philosophy studies into a profession, but she did apply them all the time, and continues to do so. It took great strength of character and dedicated self-awareness and reflection to keep forging her way forward, balancing not just school, but full-time work managing a Border’s Book Store, and a growing family. Alison met and married her husband while studying at Sacramento State; the two moved to Colorado so that Alison could attend graduate school at CU Boulder.  While working full time and attending grad school, she became pregnant with the couple’s first of two boys. At that point, while developing her thesis, she made a bold choice to discontinue graduate study for the time being to spend her non-working hours home with her baby.  “It was a tough decision, but it was the right thing for us,” Alison says. “And it was the beginning of when I started to really get into and appreciate fitness.”

After the birth of her second child four years later, Alison left her retail management position and opted to piece together small jobs that would allow for flexibility while raising her two boys. She looked after her own fitness, starting a run-walk program with her husband four mornings a week at nearby Coot Lake. After the program was finished, she continued running. She joined a moms’ group that focused on riding the Venus de Miles together, and also took up swimming. It wasn’t long before Alison set the goal of completing her first triathlon, which she did at the Longmont Tri in 2010. During her prep, she became certified to teach spin classes, first teaching at the Longmont Recreation Center, and later adding in classes at Centennial Pool.  While seeking out strength options for her own training program, Alison came across TRX suspension training   “What initially inspired me to learn more about suspension training was a video of a man in a wheelchair who was able to access so many of the benefits of strength training using the TRX suspension trainer.  I was just impressed at this tool’s versatility and accessibility and decided that I needed to learn more. I tried it, and loved it, so I took a certification class, and also got my NASM personal training certificate around this same time.”

While teaching at Centennial Pool, she convinced Karen Charles, Recreation Area Supervisor, that TRX would be a perfect addition to the limited space available for group classes there.  Karen agreed and added the TRX equipment, and so through that program at Centennial Pool, Alison had the opportunity to introduce group TRX training classes to Longmont for the first time.

As Alison become more engrossed in teaching a range of fitness classes gauged for a broad span of abilities, she found her business-minded mentality from Border’s days coming increasingly back to her. “While online one day, I came across this guy who had a studio that was just for cycling, and I thought how awesome that would be,” she says. ” His was one of the first cycle studios to exist in the country. I reached out to him, and he helped me draw up a business plan.”

Alison sat on that business plan for two years, letting the idea simmer. It continued to develop in her mind, and she pondered it with growing excitement. “I was really into cycling, but specific cycling, more performance-oriented,” she says. “And I felt like people in my spin classes would really appreciate more specialized options.” In 2011, Alison and her husband decided to take the chance and fund the project. She began looking at real estate, finding the Main Street Studio.

“Everything was so perfect,” she says. “The space was move-in ready. The owners were excited and had a vision of using their space to help build up and improve the downtown area.  I liked them right from the start!  One of the owners of the space even said that he and his wife would attend classes if I opened the studio, and they did. They still do.”

Upon opening Breakaway in 2012, Alison looked purposefully looked to her expert instructors, and to the community, for guidance. “I thought, nobody knows me, I don’t  have a following. What matters to get this off the ground is getting the best people to offer what our community wants and needs.”

Alison reached out to and integrated with the local cycling community, supporting Peak to Peak cycling group out of Lyons, St Vrain Chain gang and others with special discounts, classes and more. She made a point of welcoming instructor feedback in every area, from specific offerings to decor. She continued to add to her own personal certifications, and continuously researched developing performance oriented technology. Breakaway became the first group cycling studio in Colorado to have leaderboard technology offering external feedback. Before long, the studio became a test facility of sorts for  Stages Cycling, the brand that supports Tour de France competitor Team Sky, and which has an R&D base in Boulder. A year and a half ago, Alison added an additional studio on Sunset Street specifically for TRX, Kettlebell, and Pilates. “I loved them personally, and felt the classes would really complement cycling,” Alison says.

For evidence that Alison’s hard work and experience has paid off through Breakaway Cycling & Strength Studio, one only has to chat a minute with any of the many loyal community members who are regular clients. Or, to any of her instructors, for that matter. “I started with Breakaway when it first opened,” says client Denise Thomas. “I went away for a few years because of teaching commitments, but I came back. The culture drew me back. It’s like family.” “Instructors are very experienced,” says client Barbara Veal. “They give us little tweaks so we don’t get hurt. Classes are intimate. You have ultra athletes and beginners side by side, but everyone gets what they need. They encourage you to keep on and try.”

Client Dessie Willie found out about Breakaway through Alison’s support for the Lyons school cycling team when Willie was an assistent coach. “She was a special part of kids’ growth, many of whom were newbie mountain bikes,” Willie says. “I was so drawn in by the way she gives back to the community. And the instructors–Erika [Ruge] is a world-class athlete. We’re so lucky to have her.”

What does the future hold for Breakaway, and for Alison? She’s not sure, and that’s just how it should be. As a general rule, progress means change. “I just want to be better and better,” she says of both personal and business growth. “That can mean change, but we’re going to keep reaching for the stars and being innovating.”

Thank you so much, Alison, for reaching and innovating! Thank you for sharing and all you give to our community.

LWL: You’re so busy yourself. How do you stay active as a family?
Alison: At this age, we’re all kind of doing our own thing. But we support each other. Both my boys play basketball, and we love to go to the games. My husband plays soccer several times a week.  And I’m a kettlebell sport athlete, which provides me with competition goals and the structured training that I need to keep fitness a priority when so many other things demand my time.

LWL: How do you prioritize healthy eating?
Alison: I’m a strong believer that food is medicine. I believe the way you eat affects everything in your life. In my field, I see lots of extremes around the topic of food, but I believe that true health can only come with a more moderate approach to nutrition.  Focusing on what your body needs to be healthy and strong is much more important than focusing on what you weigh. It’s important to me that my kids eat lots of vegetables, I see their future and I feel as a mom it’s so important to me to set them up as best I can. It would be easy for me to be very restrictive with them, but I try to remember moderation here as well, so I’ll never completely take their sugar away.

LWL: What is your favorite healthy food?
Alison: Probably salads. I love making gigantic salads with all different stuff in it.

LWL: What do you treasure most about Longmont?
Alison: I love that it’s so family-focused. Being a family in Longmont, it just feels like this is the right place to raise my kids.. And I love the people. I probably wouldn’t know the community as well if I didn’t run the studio. So I feel very grateful. The people I’ve met through my business are all so kind and driven and focused, they inspire me every day!

LWL: What would you like to see in Longmont’s healthy future?
Alison: It would be so nice if we could utilize Main Street for more active things. Also, continuing in the direction they’re going–connecting trails, making it easier to ride commute.

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