Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
Angela Manuel Davis, the motivational fitness coach, founder of AARMY, isn’t just a good spin coach, she is great. Her AARMY classes are often wait-listed, not because she can make promises of toning your abs or losing 10 pounds in 10 days, but because she can tighten, lift and vitalize your inner self. Davis chooses to strengthen minds, not only bodies, inspiring her AARMY of students to live their best lives.
“In my class someone can expect to be inspired and encouraged, to leave empowered and postured for the future,” Davis says. “They can expect an opportunity to leave behind anything that doesn't serve them, to let go. They can expect to be physically challenged in the most uplifting and gratifying way.”
Davis understands the connection between the mind, body and soul. Since childhood, sports have been a grounding force in her life, an activity that centered her. Her fitness journey started at home, with her father Jerry Manuel, a former MLB player for 15 years and a coach and manager in both the major and minor leagues for 12 years. For Davis and her siblings, sports were a part of everyday life. Naturally athletic, Davis excelled at soccer and track all through high school and after graduating, attended Oral Roberts University to run track, where she became a five-time All-American and held world rankings in the 100 meters.
As a young girl, Davis watched in awe as her father coached pro players to not just be great athletes, but also great men. Early on, Manuel instilled in his daughter the importance of building the character of an athlete. This type of wisdom has helped Davis define what greatness means to her—and use it to empower her AARMY.
“Greatness comes in so many different forms and fashions. It is living a life of integrity, living a life of service,” she says. “Greatness is living a life, full of humanity and empathy and compassion. You can be a great athlete and not be a good person. It is an essence and who you are.”
Whether it’s Beyoncé or the elementary school teacher, Davis wants everyone in her AARMY classes to have an experience. She often reminds her students: we were all created in purpose, on purpose and for purpose. Davis may sound more like a minister than a fitness instructor, but she believes the connection to movement and spirituality are one—a strong body can mentally prepare you for any challenges you face in life by being that reminder to push pass the pain and the desire to give up when times get tough.
“Where my fitness journey popped off was understanding that there was a marriage between sport and spirituality that could happen amongst everyday people that weren't necessarily professional athletes, but just individuals that have a body and decide I want to live a life full of purpose and meaning and need to be strong enough to be able to do that,” she says.
She is speaking from experience. Having dealt with a serious bout of debilitating postpartum depression, Angela knows firsthand what it means to have to fight for your life. Her darkest moment came when her husband came home from work, only to find her laying on the couch with their newborn and three-year-old son in the same position he had left them. He knew something had to be done. He reminded her that her athleticism always bought her back to herself, so he purchased a five-class package to a nearby spin studio. From the first time she sat on a bike, spinning for her life, something sparked on the inside that she hadn’t felt since her Olympic heyday—Davis found her purpose once more.
Eventually, Davis became one of the most sought-after and famous SoulCycle instructors in L.A., with the likes of Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kelly Rowland, Tyler Perry and even Oprah hanging on her words as they spinned themselves into shape. For many, this would have been a moment for most to high five themselves and settle into a life of status and comfort—but not Angela. She knew she was bigger than SoulCycle, she knew she earned the right to her brand and ownership—in other words, she knew she was greater. So, she followed her heart and began AARMY. Davis believes life is about risk, not comfort, and that’s what she teaches to whoever is willing to sweat it out in her class.
“I don't think any of us are created to settle or are created to be average or mediocre,” she says. “So I'm going to be the biggest boldest, greatest, dope-est me. For me that is like encouraging everyone else to do the same, and that's the fun part.”
Senita Brooks is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.