Alex Toussaint started his fitness career mopping floors at a gym, but just a few years later, he's one of the most iconic cycling instructors on Peloton, helping thousands of users along their fitness journeys through inspirational workouts.
Toussaint told TODAY's Carson Daly that he had a "troubled childhood" and was "in and out of schools" growing up, and his father finally sent him to military school. While he thought of that as the "worst thing ever" at the time, he credits the skills he learned there for many of his achievements in life.
"I look back now and that military school was the foundation of all my discipline," Toussaint said. "The way I conduct myself, the respect that I have for people. ... You've heard me say a thousand times 'No rider left behind.' In the military, they say 'No soldier left on the field,' and that's just been my motto and my mindset coming into the last seven years that I've been teaching."
Later in life, Toussaint found himself mopping floors at a gym, where he would listen to instructors teach their classes. Inspired by the "motivation" and "discipline" they provided, he asked the owner of the company if she would give him the chance to teach a class.
"It required a certain level of confidence in myself to ask the owner of the company at the time ... 'Can I teach? Can you give me an opportunity? Can you take a chance on me?'" Toussaint recalled. He said that the owner has been his "life mentor" going forward. "And she looked at me and saw something that I didn't see in myself. ... I went from mopping floors one day to teaching the next day."
Toussaint's career progressed, and he moved to New York City, where he taught between 20 and 25 classes a week. In 2015, Peloton called to recruit him.
"At first I was like, 'I'm not going to Peloton, I just went from the darkest time in my life and I'm happy right now internally. I'm shining externally. I just figured it out for once,'" Toussaint said. "But (the studio owner) was like 'Listen, you want to be the greatest of all time on the bike, you need to go spread your wings.'"
Toussaint said that Peloton's belief in him is what inspires his energy when teaching classes.
"They saw a light in me when I didn't see light in myself, and that's why I go so hard for every single member out there," he said. "I know what it feels like ... And I refuse for that to happen anymore."
"My job is not a job, it's a passion," Toussaint continued. "I'm just fortunate enough that I found my passion, which really led to my purpose. Every day I get on the bike is a form of therapy for me."
Carson agreed with Toussaint's assessment of the cycling program as a "form of therapy," saying that he uses it to help his own mental health.
"I'm over 650 rides, (and) 99.9% (of them) are all yours," Carson said. "...There's a big reason I go there, you know? And you don't even realize it, but (for) tens of thousands of us, you're talking right through that microphone, you're looking right at us. You're looking right into our hearts and our souls, and it's much more than just motivating us to kick the resistance up. It's deep."
Toussaint said that during the coronavirus pandemic, he's found it more important than ever to be a positive resource for riders.
"The fact that I have an opportunity to wake up, move my body, move my mind, move my spirit and move my soul, (and) to have an opportunity to have somebody else move theirs, I'm grateful," Toussaint said. "I'm honestly thankful. It's a blessing. The fact that people wake up and want to listen to what I have to say is a blessing."
Toussaint finished his conversation with Carson with some optimistic words for anyone looking to make a change in 2021.
"The one thing I would say to people is work on shining internally so you could shine externally," he said. "Work on feeling good about yourself, that way you could look good. And once you look good, learn how to extend your hands to others out there who may need it."
Toussaint added that it's important to "validate" yourself frequently.
"Every opportunity that I have, I apply myself to the fullest," he said. "And that's just me validating my greatness on a 24-hour basis. So I tell my members, 'Every single time you complete something, you better validate that.' Don't wait for somebody else to clap for you, because you'll be waiting your entire life. Clap for yourself. Validate your greatness at all times."