Name: Ratona Harr
Hometown: Florence, Kentucky
Occupation: Studio owner/teacher at Full body fitness and yoga and cycling instructor at cycle bar Hyde Park in Cincinnati, Ohio
Time cycle: Since 2006
Reason for cycling: I love it. This is the real answer, I love the feeling that is created inside me when I ride. I often say, it’s the best therapy.
I love the indoor cycling experience, but I started as a racer first. I ran the Flying Pig Marathon in 2006 when I was 30 years old. However, a few months later I had back surgery, which eventually led me to cycling.
Shortly after running the marathon, my body collapsed. I had four herniated discs in my lower back and was in so much pain I could barely walk. Sometimes I had to crawl because walking was too painful. Once I recovered from my surgery, I needed a way to replace the feeling I would get from a good run or non-impact cardio session. Cycling was that.
Later I became an instructor at CycleBar in 2015, having worked as a group fitness instructor since 2005, and since then I have been in love with riding.
My life suddenly changed, however, when I survived a massive “widowmaker” heart attack in February 2021. Two days before my heart attack, while teaching at CycleBar, I felt pressure in my Chest. However, I did not go to a doctor or have it checked out.
It was a Saturday morning and I was teaching my regular strength and cardio class, which was full of students.
About 20 minutes into class, I felt like an explosion went off in my chest. The sensation was as instantaneous as flipping a switch and then boom. I couldn’t feel my arms, I could barely breathe, I was sweating buckets, freezing cold and collapsing in the hallway of my studio trying to figure out what was happening to me.
I almost lost my life. The main artery to my heart, the left anterior descending artery (LAD) was 100% blocked. At the time, I didn’t know I was having a heart attack. I was 44 years old, fit, healthy and had never had a heart problem before (except for this pressure two days before the attack).
My class started at 8:30 a.m., a client called 911 at 8:56 a.m., and I was getting two life-saving stents in my heart shortly after 9:30 a.m. Unfortunately, the heart attack caused significant damage to my heart. leading to congestive heart failure. As a result, I was hospitalized for four days and could not leave the hospital without wearing a Safety jacketa portable automatic defibrillator, designed to protect patients at risk of sudden cardiac death.
It’s crazy to think that I went to teach a class on a Saturday morning, and three days later I was wearing a brace because my heart was so damaged and weak and I was at high risk of going into cardiac arrest or having another heart attack.
I wore the LifeVest until July of that summer while I had 30 cardiac therapy sessions to rebuild my heart, three times a week for 10 weeks, each session lasting about two hours. You can think of cardiac therapy as physical therapy for your heart, aimed at making it stronger and prescribed by a cardiologist. It’s part of the road to recovery after a heart attack.
Cardio exercise is the main component of therapy to strengthen your heart. So my sessions were combinations of cycling and rowing, as well as treadmills and ellipticals.
In addition to exercise, you educate yourself on heart health, medications, diet, and more. I also took (and still take) several medications to heal and help my heart so I can be active again.
I took six months off full time to focus on my recovery, stopped teaching, and spent time rebuilding myself physically and emotionally.
The recovery was difficult and the heart attack was traumatic. I was doing my job, in my workplace, and I almost died. So getting back to physical fitness and doing my job was scary and mentally taxing. But now, two years later, I’m back, but with boundaries in place to protect my heart.
At the time of my heart attack, my doctors were unsure if I would start cycling again, but luckily I was able to do so with “parameters” in place. I resumed teaching in September 2021, but now I only teach a cycling class once a week, while mixing strength and yoga classes. Before my heart attack, I taught four cycling classes a week, in addition to strength and yoga.
I have to keep my max heart rate at 150 and now take time during my rides to back up or get off the bike to check my body. I can physically cycle for 45 minutes straight, but I don’t because pushing the limits isn’t worth it. I want to ride and feel good!
The biggest element for me now, which I believe many are lacking in their fitness routines, is rest and recovery. Recovering from my heart attack taught me the importance of rest.
I often joke that I ride a bike that goes nowhere, but takes me everywhere. When I ride at CycleBar, I feel empowered, happy, healthy and free, and I love sharing that feeling with others!
I believe the reason I survived the day of my heart attack was because of how strong my heart was before my heart attack. It was strong enough to carry me to the hospital. It’s like every time I showed up, I was training for the day when I needed my fitness the most.
These tips made my cycling trip a success:
1. Find the music that motivates you
For me, there would be no motorcycle without music. Music matters. Create a killer playlist or follow my CycleBar Harr playlist on Spotify.
2. Do not expect anything from yourself
Be proud, you do! I often say to my clients and my riders: “The hardest part isn’t class, it’s showing off. You came, well done!
Just get on the bike with no expectations and give yourself time to find what works for you. Don’t think of a destination, think about how you want to feel along the way, then figure out how you like to ride and where you like to ride, and just keep showing up.
3. Listen to your body
There is only one of you. This has been a crucial understanding since my heart attack.
Ratona’s essential equipment
→ TIEM cycling shoes: I love the colors they offer, and they feel and look great!
→ Maxwell House Coffee: I have a coffee before teaching or training. I rarely teach or train in the evening, but I never miss my dose before I start.
→ Lululemon Alignment Leggings: I only wear Lululemon leggings because they fit well and are comfortable. I hate shopping, so I will buy several identical ones.
→ Yeti Cup: I always get thirsty after teaching or exercising and will stop for a refreshing drink afterwards, but I hate the thought of throwing in a straw and a cup.
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Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.