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The Rise and Run of Jess Sims

The Peloton instructor has added a slew of side hustles to build a life she never knew to dream of. Boardroom spoke to the member of the “College GameDay” crew about her unplanned journey to stardom.

As 15 runners took one final stretch before embarking on a grueling 20-minute tread class inside Peloton‘s Hudson Yards studios on a rainy Thursday morning, superstar instructor Jess Sims shouted the mantra she gives to each of her classes, one that’s deeply meaningful to her.

“We all got stresses, worries, concerns, anxieties, judgments, expectations, pressures, comparisons, projections, grief, and miscellaneous toxicity,” she told the group, those tuning in live around the world, and many thousands more members who will eventually take this class from memory, “and through it all, I can take care of myself and put that to the side for the next 20 minutes.”

This particular day’s workout was part of a collaboration series with the NBA called “3rd Quarter” and featured special guest Brooklyn Net Mikal Bridges. The warmup mantra, the 35-year-old told Boardroom following the class, is for everyone’s mental state as well as their bodies. The mantra grew over time, with Sims adding grief following the loss of her beloved father in December. Since it’s inclusion, several members have reached out to her telling her they’ve experienced loss before and that they were happy she was talking about what she’s gone through. Sims’ willingness to unveil her own struggles and triumphs is what’s made her so popular among the global fitness community.

“As a Peloton member, I was really excited to have the opportunity to join the incredible Jess Sims once again for class at Peloton Studios New York,” Bridges said after running and chatting with Sims while a curated playlist featuring Kendrick Lamar, Gucci Mane, DJ Khaled, and Lil’ Wayne blared. “It was so cool to connect with her over our mutual love for basketball, music, and the power of a great workout.”

It’s this relatability and her upbeat, personable nature that’s helped the Massachusetts native as she’s pivoted from a school principal job to a celebrity instructor with a social following of more than 500,000 followers. But that’s only the beginning, in her off-hours, Sims has catapulted to become a prominent member of ESPN‘s legendary College GameDay college football show, a Good Morning America contributor, and the New York Liberty‘s in-arena host.

She caught up with Boardroom about how she gets it all done, what drives her, and how she’s manifested a life that she never knew to dream of.

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After two years leading fitness classes at boutique New York City studios, she joined Peloton in September 2018. It completely changed her life, she said, finding a place she felt she could call home for a long time while embracing a global team that helped her through the dark, lonely days of the pandemic.

During the pandemic, Sims said, the instructors were all dying to get back into work because that’s where they most felt themselves.

“We felt energized and connected in a world that felt so isolating,” she added.

Sims lived near the studio at the time, and as she was walking her dogs on one dreary day, there was a couple working out in a nearby park. Noticing their phone was laid out, she walked in their direction “and all of a sudden I heard my voice!” she said. “So I had this crazy goosebumps moment of ‘here I am sad and feeling alone,’ but these two people are working out and taking care of themselves together to my workout. And that’s all Peloton. Look at the power of that.”

Even when on the road for College GameDay, Sims never misses a day. (Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sims described herself as a lifelong underdog, a behind-the-scenes type of person who was never the leading scorer on her basketball teams growing up, but a scrappy role player who would dive on the floor for loose balls, grabbing rebounds, and doing the dirty work to help her teams succeed. Starting at Peloton pushed her headlong into the spotlight, teaching classes to a global audience with cameras on her five day a week. While she struggled with this at first, Robin Arzón, Peloton’s head of fitness, said that Sims was standing in her spotlight to show others they can do the same and thrive as well.

“I always get butterflies. I always get nervous.” Sims said before teaching a big class or conducting a high profile interview. “And then I just always come back to knowing that people don’t come to me for perfection. They come to me because they see themselves in me. They see imperfections, and they can have this sense of relief. I don’t need to be perfect. They come for improvement and inspiration.”

When Sims looks back on her career as an educator, everything seemed so clear. She had ambitions to become a school superintendent and to help shape education law reform. But since she began pursuing her passion in fitness, Sims embarked on what she called a “no plan plan,” which consists of doing what feels good and right for her.

With an openness to whatever came her way, all kinds of doors have opened for her.

In 2021, talking about basketball all the time during her classes caught the attention of the Liberty CEO and members of the organization, who believed she’d be a great host. Sims then signed on with a sports agency, which suggested she get in front of executives at ESPN to see if she’d be a fit there. Having found a stable home at Peloton, she felt no pressure as these opportunities materialized, believing that if there was a fit, it was meant to be.

The ESPN meeting came two days after the 2022 Boston Marathon, Sims’ first — and prbably the most meaningful Monday of her life. That day, Sims showed up for one of her fierce followers. The woman had nearly lost her legs while cheering at the finish line in the blasts of 2013. As part of her rehab, the woman took Sims’ class and reached out to ask Sims if she’d run the marathon in her honor.

Coming off this runner’s high, Sims felt on top of the world and decided she’d go into this meeting and just be herself. Authenticity has given her a lot of success, but doing so takes time and isn’t a quick fix. Six months later, Sims was a permanent member of the College GameDay crew. The move sparked a subsequent array of steps. She joined GMA last April and expanded her role on ESPN as a college basketball sideline reporter in December.

In September 2022, Sims joined Jordan Brand as an ambassador, presenting herself as a professional athlete with no offseason who can amplify women in sports and educate the masses on the connection between mind and body.

While she compares her hustle to Serena Williams, Steph Curry, and Sydney Leroux, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are Sims’ two favorite players of all time. So Jordan Brand was always one of her dream partnerships, along with Dr. Martens and Jeep. Sims is hopeful that not only will the Jumpman come out with a running shoe one day, she’ll get her own signature shoe as well.

Asked what she’d say to people looking to follow in her footsteps, Sims provided two pieces of advice. First, be yourself. The people who stick with you over the long haul will do so because of how you’ve developed your own authenticity and forged your own path over time toward sustained success.

Secondly, don’t force things.

“We grow up and we’re constantly told to ‘try harder. Try this. Try that,” Sims said. “I’ve learned that if you have to try too hard, you’re probably forcing something. So ever since I turned 30, I say that from when you’re born to 30, you learn a bunch of stuff, and then from 30 until the day you die, you unlearn all of those things. One of those things that you need to unlearn is don’t try to force things. Try to get into a flow state, something that feels good for you and then feels good for the people around you. And go with that.”

Because of her “no plan plan,” Sims isn’t sure how she envisions her career going from here on out. As long as it makes sense and she sticks to her north stars of making people laugh, inspiring people, and making an impact, that will guide her path forward. Peloton, her dream job, has been the springboard of everything she’s accomplished over the last five-and-a-half years and will remain her home base for the foreseeable future.

Plus, Sims hates the word goals. She said, preferring to set targets for herself.

“If I stuck with my goals,” she continued, “I wouldn’t be here at Peloton. When I talk about or think about goals, it’s like you have blinders on and you just see that one goal. And when you do that, you tend to not veer off the beaten path. You don’t enjoy the process because you’re fixated on the outcome.”

Sims wants to continue taking care of herself so she can the best at what she’s doing that day, regardless of platform. She’s here to enjoy every single day, getting the most out of her second life inspiring others and basking and thriving in the spotlight.

“Sometimes,” Sims said, “the most beautiful things are off path.”

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Shlomo Sprung

Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.

About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.