Taking a spin for good health: Lori McGuire finds her place and keeps moving

By Chelsea Retherford | Living 50 Plus

At 53 years old, Lori McGuire said she feels more physically fit than she has ever felt in her life, but she couldn’t say that two years ago.

A teacher, a caretaker, and a mom of three, she said she was used to putting everyone else’s needs before her own for years.

“I am the reason that the airplane attendant teaches you to put your oxygen mask on yourself first,” she said. “I will literally work myself into the ground taking care of everyone else.”

McGuire, who taught for the Muscle Shoals School System for about 10 years before joining the Alabama Math Science Technology Initiative 20 years ago, is now the director of AMSTI at the University of North Alabama.

She remains very active in ministry and mission, working with teens at Highland Park Baptist Church. She also serves on the board of directors of the Kruzn for a Cure Foundation, which aims to provide research funding for children diagnosed with Schimke Immuno-osseous Dysplasia, or SIOD, and other rare diseases.

Being a full-time working mom, and staying so active in her community, McGuire said she wore the term “self-sacrificing” like a badge of honor.

That mentality changed drastically in the spring of 2022 after she had attended an education seminar in San Antonio, Texas, that reframed her way of thinking.

“It was in that conference that it really hit me: If I truly love the people that I say that I love, and if I truly want to take care of them the way that I feel they deserve to be cared for, I had to start doing something differently. I had to care for myself,” she said.

At that conference, she said there was one session that had flipped that switch within her.

“Tina Boogren was leading this session centered around educator wellness, because educators were leaving by droves because of burnout,” McGuire said. “She discussed the mind gap — that space between being motivated to do something and actual activation.”

McGuire said Boogren went over the 5-second rule technique created by Mel Robbins to help those who hesitate or overthink, preventing them to act on tasks or ideas. The method is used to break a bad habit by having the participant condition themselves to act as soon as they reach the number one in a five-second countdown.

“It’s the idea that from the moment you’re given the initiative by your brain to do something, you have five seconds before your mind will give you an excuse not to do it,” McGuire explained.

McGuire, a stage 3 melanoma survivor who has also been living with lupus erythematosus — a chronic inflammatory disease commonly affecting the joints, kidneys, nervous system and skin — said she had a “laundry list of reasons” that had always prevented her from working on her physical fitness.

“I knew what I needed to do, and I’ve got so many people in my corner,” she said. “I have such an incredible support system. My husband is my biggest cheerleader, and my kids — we’re just a super tight family. I have incredible friends, and an incredible church family.

“It was not a lack of people believing in me. It was just me making constant excuses.”

Though McGuire has been cancer free for nine years, she had undergone surgery to remove all the lymph nodes from underneath her left arm after a tumor had spread from a spot on her back. The surgeries she had in 2014 left her with places of numbness along her left side.

“So, I used that excuse. The lupus was a good excuse. At the time, I was 52 years old and had never actively worked out,” she said. “I would start something, but with Lupus, there is a lot of inflammation and a lot of pain. A lot of real extreme fatigue. I would hit something and think maybe I had found my niche, but then I would push myself a little too hard. I would work myself into a flare and then I would crash. I would pay for it.”

McGuire said she had tried Zumba, a popular aerobic fitness program that features movements based on Latin American dance styles. She tried weight lifting, which she enjoyed with her husband and two sons, but the workout did nothing to improve her cardiovascular health.

She said she attempted to walk on the treadmill, or just walking in general. She tried working out on a StairMaster, but those repetitive pounding motions would often cause her lupus to flair up, causing inflammation in her ankles, knees and hips.

“Water aerobics is something that a rheumatologist often pushes, and that works great for some folks,” she said. “It doesn’t work with my schedule, the times that water aerobics are offered in our area. So, I never even gave that a go.”

After leaving the education seminar in Texas, McGuire said she kept wondering, “Could this really work?”

Back in the Shoals, One Ride Cycle had been open on Second Street in Muscle Shoals for about a week. McGuire said it took her a little longer to get her nerve up, but she finally booked a spin class.

“They told me I could rent my shoes there, and on my lunch, I had to go to Old Navy to get a sports bra and some leggings. I got the cheapest outfit I could find, because I knew in the back of my mind, I was never going to stick with this,” McGuire said.

When she walked in for her first workout, she remembers telling her instructors about her lupus and about the numbness in her arm, and added, “If you make me hurt, I will not come back.”

She was relieved when she found out the overhead lights were turned off during the 45-minute workout, and she chose to clip-in on a bike in the back of the room, but she was not immediately sold on that first experience.

“I had so little upper body strength that when I slipped — my feet didn’t slip off the pedals, but I slipped down off the seat, and I didn’t have enough upper body strength to push myself back up,” she said.

After the class, she was honest with her instructor, A.B. Haggard, who took her back into the studio and gave her some pointers.

“From that point on, they just kept telling me, ‘Don’t worry about what you look like. Don’t worry if you’re doing the arm movements just right. Don’t worry over whether you’re on time and in sync with everyone, just keep moving,’” McGuire said. “That’s the goal, and that was the mindset I had.”

She said it took several classes, at least five or six, before she could make it through a song without taking the seat on her bike.

“Cass (Thilman) was instructing, and I was still in the back, but I made it all the way through a song standing up,” she said. “There’s no shame in taking a seat, but the first time that I made it all the way through the song, at the end, Cass was up there saying, ‘Great job,’ and I yelled out, ‘I freaking did it!’”

When McGuire reached her hundredth ride, she said Thilman handed her a note that read, “You freaking did it.”

At One Ride Cycle McGuire said she has not only found a fitness regimen that works with her schedule or a routine that does not cause lupus flare ups, but she’s also found a community that rides with her and supports her on her journey.

“No, I don’t know the names of every single person who is clipping in beside me, but once you clip in and those lights go out, you’re on my team,” she said.

McGuire said she tries to cycle at the studio at least three times a week, when possible. Now that she’s been at it for over a year, she said she’s been able to enjoy life more with her family.

“We just got back from the beach, and I was out doing the waves with my 20-year-old kids and holding my own right there with them,” she said. “I’m going hiking, and playing with my great nieces and nephews, and the special kids in my life.”

McGuire said her doctor has cut her lupus medication in half, and after a recent stress test, her cardiologist agreed she is in better shape than she was 10 years ago.

She admits she still goes through her highs and lows like anyone else. McGuire said there are days she can walk into the studio and give it her all with the ease of an experienced rider, but there are other days that “giving it her all” takes a little more from her.

“On my first spin after my mom passed away, I cried throughout the whole thing. My 110% looked different that day than another day would,” she said. “Whatever you bring into the building that day, you put it under your feet, and you just keep moving.”

McGuire said her mother’s illness served as another inspiration for her to keep moving. When her mother became bed-ridden in the last months of her life, McGuire said she was able to care for her only after slowly building the strength that she gained in the spin classes.

When she lost her mother, she said the One Ride Cycle community was also there for emotional support.

“My mom’s last week of life was extremely hard. When I did my first few rides afterwards, they were coming off their bikes and putting their hands on mine, whispering, you’ve got this, we’ve got you. We’re behind you. They truly make you feel like you’re the most important rider in there. It’s a special place.”

McGuire said the studio has also become a very sacred personal space for her.

When she’s there cycling, she said she isn’t there to compete with anyone or push herself to her goals on anyone’s schedule but her own. When she books a ride, she lets her family know, and she leaves her phone off or outside of the studio.

“This is the one place that for 45 minutes, it’s all about me,” she said. “My family knows what my ride schedule is for that week, and they know if anything goes down during that period of time, call your dad.”

At one time, McGuire thought taking 45 minutes for herself two or three times a week went against her mantra of self-sacrificing for others she cared for.

“I kind of had it in my head that that self-care was selfish,” she said. “My idea of self-care was going to get a haircut, but it’s not selfish to leave my phone for 45 minutes and do something to make myself stronger. As a matter of fact, it’s the opposite, because I’m taking better care of my family better now than I did five years ago.”

McGuire said she knows a spin class may not be for everyone, but she encourages others who have plateaued in prioritizing their own health to bridge the gap between being motivated and taking the first step.

“Everyone can find their place. Find your thing. You’ve got to keep moving. Find what is going to work for you,” she said. “When your mind starts making up the excuses and giving you all the reasons you can’t, you’ve got to fill that mind gap and make the choice to do it.

“Wherever your place is, find your place and keep moving, but for me, my posse rides on Second Street.”