By Akin Akman
My name is Akin Akman and I am a SoulCycle instructor and group fitness instructor at Crunch Gym. I teach all around New York City, and because of my growing following of students, I branded myself and my following as Akin’s Army — a dedicated group of people, pursuing a lifestyle of fitness that pushes both mental and physical boundaries. In the past year, I’ve been graciously overwhelmed with the number of people who’ve told me how much my classes and Akin’s Army have inspired and changed their lives.
However, what some people may not know is that I was once on the fast track to becoming a professional tennis player, a dream that I never thought I would have to let go of. It was absolutely the most difficult life moment I’ve had to endure — and recover from — but it has made me an even stronger example, to show my students that one can indeed overcome such hardship and obstacles to come out on top.
I found my first love when I started playing tennis at the ripe age of 5. I was already years ahead of my peers, and was winning against players older than me. When I was 7, I began training at the world famous IMG Academy, known for such prestigious tennis players as Anna Kournikova, Maria Sharapova, and Andre Agassi. I was also under the coveted tutelage of Nick Bollettieri, the legendary coach who trained the world’s top tennis players. I trained 8-10 hours six days a week, in addition to school. I was passionate about tennis, and laser-focused on what I believed was my destiny to become a top pro tennis player. I didn’t see any other option for myself than to reach the top ranks of Bollettieri’s world-winning athletes.
My fierce commitment to the sport began paying off in my mid teenage years as I hit a winning streak. I developed a newfound confidence and strength in my mental game, which made me an intimidating opponent on the court. Coach Bollettieri advised me to pursue playing in the pro circuit, and forego the college route. I was elated at the chance to prove myself as a professional. My dreams appeared concrete and within my sight.
My life-changing moment came at the age of 17. I was severely injured with a pinched nerve in my lower vertebrae, so painful I could barely even walk. To this day, I still remember this injury as the most challenging obstacle I’ve ever faced. It was soul-crushing to see all my years of labor go down the drain as I struggled to remaster the basic act of walking. I worked tirelessly for ten months with physical therapists and chiropractors to realign my spine and build my muscles back up, all in the hope that I could once again start winning. I had to give up the idea of going into the pro circuit, and accepted a tennis scholarship at Florida Atlantic University.
At FAU, I was expected to recover more quickly than I was ready to, and was forced to give up my scholarship. Yet, I was still not ready to give up my tennis dreams. I attempted to stay in the game, returning to IMG Academy as a tennis coach for other students. I kept working on my own game in the hopes that I could make a comeback. I worked my way up to beating top college players again, and some pro tour players. I was ready to take back my victorious path to success, when I faced the second misfortune of my career, injuring my wrist. With my arm in a cast, I switched to my left hand to teach, too adamant to admit that it was not yet time for me to move on.
It was when I was approached by Ford Models to sign with them that I finally began admitting to myself that it may be time to move on from competitive tennis. I wasn’t succeeding in my game, so I decided to take a chance on their offer and a leap of faith by moving to New York City. It’s been six years since I took that leap, and since then, I have been taken on a whirlwind of a blossoming career in modeling and group fitness that I could have never seen coming. I began teaching group fitness just as a side gig to keep coaching and doing what I love, but it has now become an essential part of my daily life.
When I began teaching at SoulCycle about a year and a half ago, I was able to reach an even wider platform of people, connecting to over 300 students a day. (And what a great place it is to work!) Now, as I run around the city teaching 30-32 classes a week at both SoulCycle and Crunch, I am heartened by the students who tell me they are inspired by me, just like I once was by Bollettieri. Every day I see new faces, and I also see the familiar faces of students who have been coming to me for over five years. Both are extremely compelling to me in my foundation of Akin’s Army, and are the reason I love every minute of what I do.
In all honesty, I can’t say that I’ve completely recovered from my hopes of becoming a tennis pro athlete. It is still bittersweet for me to go to the US Open, and watch players who I once played against compete on the court I dreamed of for so long. However, I believe that everything that’s led me to this point has impacted me in a way that has evolved me into the best possible coach, instructor, and motivator that I could have ever asked to be. It is because of those failures and adversities that I am able to tell each class, every day, that they are absolutely limitless in whatever they do. That they should constantly push themselves out of their comfort zone. That every day is a chance to become a better version of yourself.
Akin Akman is an instructor at SoulCycle, the driving force behind his intense boot camp at Crunch Fitness, and the leader of Akin’s Army. Akin loves what he does every day, which makes it not feel like work at all. He has fully embraced the new direction his fitness career is heading, and is incredibly thrilled to continue inspiring others to become the best version of themselves.