The high-energy, enthusiasm and excitement Roland Walker brings to the spin classes he leads through out the East End may not be what you'd expect from a 29-year veteran New York State Park police officer.
He's much less drill sergeant and more motivating coach. An aerobics turned spin instructor, Walker bring his A-game to every class, pushing riders with a constant flow of encouragement, which often includes high-pitched sounds and brief dancing, not to mention an array of untraditional music he mixes himself like Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Baby" and Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" throughout the 45-minutes classes.
On the job, patrolling Montauk and Wildwood parks, he's more serious and stern, but in the spin studio, his true personality shines. "I'm a different person there. I know how to separate the two," he said.
Walker, a Riverhead resident who grew up in Bridgehampton, has ties across the East End, currently teaching at four places; in East Quogue, where he has been for 17 years, in Amagansett, in Mattituck, and High Gear in Westhampton.
His road to becoming a fitness instructor had a lot to do with having become a police officer. "When I got on the job, I blew up during the first two years," he said. By the late 1980s, he weighed as much as 240 pounds. He shed 20 pounds or so, but at 6'1", he wanted to make a real change and change his body.
He joined the Riverhead Fitness Center and tried step classes, which he continued at the East Quogue gym that later became Sportime. He took up aerobics too, and instructors soon encouraged him to teach. "I had so much energy. Anytime I took a class, I brought the class to another energy level," he said.
But, Walker said he wasn't totally convinced, but knowing he wouldn't have to pay for a membership if he did, he decided to try it. In 1995, he went for his first certification.
As he started to teach, word got out that his classes were energetic and well-attended. He ended up teaching at the American Fitness Factory (now the Sag Harbor Gym), the Omni (now the Southampton Gym) and Summer Kicks in East Hampton.
"In 1998, spinning came to Long Island. A year later, Sportime bought spin bikes," he said. A fellow instructor encouraged him to get certified to teach spin, which he did in 2001. It took some time for him to gain a following. "People knew me for aerobics and step class. They didn't know me for spinning."
He eventually formulated a type of class that he feels works best — a spin, cycle, ride program. He said its less restrictive.
"My system works. I'm motivating and we're having fun. I like making people work hard and not even realize their working hard," he said, which he said is the greatest compliment.
In 2009, his clients were so upset that he had to take 10 days off from teaching to work as an officer at the US Open, that he promised he'd make it up to them with a "spin revival" for five straight days at 6 a.m. His clients loved it so much, he did it again the following two years with it growing each time.
This past June, he teamed up with one of his favorite clients, Michelle Papajohn, of East Quogue, to use the "spin revival" to raise money for brain cancer research, as Papajohn suffers from a benign tumor in her brain. They raised over $4,000.
Many police officers work side-jobs, but this married father of one said being a fitness class instructor while off-duty isn't about making extra money, but about his passion for it. "You've got to love it," he said. He earns between $45 and $150 per class.
Fellow officers are used to the fact that Walker is a spin instructor, though they are still surprised by his choice of music. Even his partner is surprised. "How do you play Barry White?"
"I'm the only one who could make that work," Walker said.
Know Roland Walker from his day job or from his spin classes? Tell us why you love him in the comments below.