It’s not often that someone finds her calling so quickly after diving into an unfamiliar field. Bay Shore’s Barbara Larrea, 47, did exactly that after accepting a job at World Gym in Wantagh 23 years ago.
At the time, Larrea was a single mother, had attended Suffolk Community College and was working toward an associate’s degree in liberal arts with a focus in science. “I was considering a career in nursing,” Larrea recalled. But, she added, “I loved fitness so much, and I knew instantly, within the first year, that I had found my career path.”
She wasn’t focused strictly on being successful in the fitness world, but rather on helping people in her community, which has been her focus ever since. And on Oct. 10, she opened Brooklyn Cycle & Fitness, on Brooklyn Avenue in Massapequa.
“I knew that if I had a platform to help people, that was what’s important,” Larrea said. “You get to take people for an hour, bring them into your space, and have the power to make them forget about their everyday life. It’s a type of therapy.”
Wanting to help people grew from an interest in nursing into finding a purpose through fitness. Larrea rose to become the program director at World Gym, where she trained many locals and made many lasting impressions. She coordinated a variety of fitness classes for members, including spin classes.
“I just remember feeling hesitant to go back to the gym after I had just given birth to one of my children, and I was feeling pretty insecure,” said Donna Jebaily of Seaford. “But Barbara was great. She really made me feel comfortable and welcome.”
Warmth and inclusiveness are common themes when clientele speak of Larrea’s training style. She acknowledges that there are more “Army general-like” fitness and spin instructors out there, but that’s not her style. “If I can make you laugh, connect with you on an emotional level,” she said, “that is a success to me.”
Lifelong Seaford resident Jennifer Krinic is Larrea’s age, 47, and they have daughters who are the same age. “She was super-positive with her feedback, and was so supportive after class,” Krinic said. “Sometimes when you go to a gym, you can feel it’s clique-y or uppity, but not with her. She checked on me the next day, and said that I could call her if I needed anything.”
The comfort Krinic felt with Larrea moved her to come back again and again. Her experience isn’t unique: Many people in Seaford, Wantagh and Massapequa, Krinic said, feel the same about Larrea. “People are always saying great things about her on social media, too,” Krinic said. “The conformability makes people want to come back.”
Larrea started Cycle for Strength, a charity fundraiser at Mulcahy’s in Wantagh, in 2015. She has held the event every year, with the exception of 2018. Each time, participants raise money for a different cause, and in its brief history, the event has helped fund suicide prevention; multiple sclerosis, breast cancer and autism research; and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
She describes her charitable efforts as not so much a responsibility as they are a passion. Her nephew Brody Kuenzler, 9, developed Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Her last Cycle for Strength, she said, was dedicated to him.
To reserve a bike, cyclists must first raise $350. The demand for bikes has steadily increased, and this year’s group cycle, on Oct. 5, raised over $17,000 in total. $13,993 went to Strength For Life, a nonprofit organization for adults battling any form of cancer. The remaining $3,250 deriving from raffle tickets went to nine-year-old Kuenzler.
“This has been a big part of my growth,” Larrea said of Cycle for Strength, explaining that she was inspired by her many mentors in the spinning community to create the event.
By opening her own business, Larrea achieved one of her career goals. The next one? “Hey, if I could make Cycle for Strength a nonprofit organization, that would be special,” she said. “I realized that I could make some sort of impact, and I hope that I can keep this growing and keep helping people.”