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You don’t need to be a Peloton fan to get into Tunde Oyeneyin’s new book

The star instructor’s new self-help release, ‘Speak,’ is a joyful memoir with lessons for the masses.

"SPEAK: Find Your Voice, Trust Your Gut, and Get From Where You Are to Where You Want To Be" by Tunde OyeneyiAvid Reader Press

I’m not an exercise class person. I do not like to be motivated by others while I work out.

That’s why I’ve never been tempted by Peloton, not even during 2020 when I could no longer get to the gym.

Still, I’ve been interested in the concept of a Peloton celebrity. I’ve heard about instructors with huge followings and have wondered what makes them special — how they become fixtures in people’s homes without ever sharing the same physical space.

So for this Working on It column — devoted to self-help books — I chose the new book by Tunde Oyeneyin, a star Peleton instructor.


It sounds from the rave reviews like she’s good at her job. But can Oyeneyin’s book — “Speak: Find Your Voice, Trust Your Gut, and Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” — appeal to a nonrider?

The answer is yes.

Oyeneyin’s “Speak” is an inspiring, read-in-one-sitting memoir about community, embracing change, and taking risks. Her experiences are so unique you might wonder how they might apply to you, but her storytelling brings you along for every ride. (Pun intended, sorry.)

The book is mostly memoir, and Oyeneyin’s life is filled with characters. She grew up in a big Nigerian family in Texas. One of her best friends is Kim Harvey, a.k.a. Kimberly Caldwell from the second season of “American Idol.” Her inner circle provides great love and comedy as they advise Oyeneyin through her twenty-something experiences.

Topics in the book range from body shame to career changes. After not being able to fit into a bridesmaid dress when she was 14 years old, she joins a gym, but it’s complicated. “It came with a free orientation session with one of the trainers, but I was too embarrassed to be seen trying to learn my way around. I still didn’t want to acknowledge to the world that there was anything about myself I wanted to change.” Oyeneyin explains how, over time, she figured out how to detach herself from a scale for a better life.


To be clear, most of the book is not about exercise. Sometimes “Speak” reads like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Will a young Tunde leave everything she knows and move to Los Angeles? Yes! Will she quit one career for another because of a seemingly random gut feeling? Again, a big yes.

At one point, she winds up as a contestant on “Deal or No Deal,” and I was so stressed I felt like I was watching it live. Later, the story of her first audition for Peloton is a nail-biter.

Each experience is delivered with a lesson. The most instructive, for me, at least, was about her time working as a makeup artist. One story about a woman who samples lipstick made me cry a little.

“There’s a vulnerability to sitting and getting your makeup done,” Oyeneyin writes. “A stranger is touching your face, seeing those up-close details that you usually only see in the privacy of your mirror at home. The more I did it, the more they opened up to me, telling me about their partners, their hopes and disappointments. I was able to receive and honor their vulnerability. ... I always try to do this. Not with everyone all the time — some people have already shown me who they are. But in the line at the grocery store, I give the person who is moving too slowly the benefit of the doubt. She is a human being. Maybe she worked a double shift last night.”


The stories from that work — and the moments in her book that involve grief — answered my questions about how Oyeneyin can connect with so many students at once, even from afar.

One of the biggest moments in the book — which will come as no surprise to Peloton fans — is when she teaches a Peloton class called “Speak Up” in June 2020. She starts with details about her childhood and her experiences with racism.

“We had moved from Houston to Katy, a suburb, because my mother was worried about my brothers growing up in the city. They were six and eight and were transitioning from being cute to the age where people might feel threatened by them. My mother hadn’t grown up with systemic racism — in Nigeria, lines are drawn by class, not color — but my parents knew what went on in America and understood that while there was great opportunity here, we had to remember who we were and what we looked like in the world.”

At one point, a young Oyeneyin is pulled over by police for speeding. What happens is upsetting — and unsurprising.

All of this fuels the Peloton ride, during which she spoke about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and “the long list of other names that had come before them, and the long list of names there likely would be after them if we didn’t step up.”


“The first song I played was J. Cole’s ‘Trouble.’ ... I explained to those riding with me that usually I use the music to distract from the physical discomfort, to take away the pain. But I had chosen this song, and all of the songs on the playlist, to expose the pain, to inflict it, so we could all sit in it together. Because on the other side of pain is growth. ... During the second song, Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” I glanced down at the leaderboard to see how many people were there. I usually had three or four thousand people at my live rides. But today there were twenty-two thousand...who had showed up to hear what I had to say.”

Early in the book, Oyeneyin’s mother tells her, “Yetunde, if this is something that’s important to you, you’re going to have to make a change.’ That was my mother’s way.”

It’s a philosophy that guides Oyeneyin’s every step. There’s a lot to learn from it.

Speak: Find Your Voice, Trust Your Gut, and Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” by Tunde Oyeneyin, Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, $27.

Meredith Goldstein also writes the advice column Love Letters. You can send her your own relationship problem by e-mailing loveletters@globe.com or by filling out this form.