Leader of the Pack

She’s a top Peloton instructor, a model, dancer, clothing designer, and soon-to-be author. She’s starred in a Super Bowl commercial and performed with Snoop Dogg and the Rolling Stones. But long before that, Emma Lovewell had just one goal: to win the Edgartown School lip syncing contest.

Last name?” shouted an attendant from inside the ticket booth at the Steamship Authority terminal in Woods Hole. “Lovewell,” Emma Lovewell called back.

The attendant emerged from her booth. “Hey,” she said, approaching the car, “you’re a Peloton instructor!” Lovewell smiled. “We just let a Peloton van come over on the boat with like twenty-five bikes. That’s so cool. Anyway, lane three.”

As one of the stars of the multi-billion-dollar fitness equipment and media streaming company that skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic, and with more than 600,000 Instagram followers of her own, Lovewell is accustomed to being recognized. It’s just less likely to happen when she’s on Martha’s Vineyard. “At first I knew all the people on the Vineyard who had Peloton bikes and it was like five of them,” she said. “It was so funny, just learning from the Steamship about so many more bikes being on the Island. I thought, ‘Oh, awesome.’”

Lovewell, who grew up in Edgartown and now lives just outside of New York City, returns “home” to Martha’s Vineyard as often as she can, although she is, for lack of a better word, busy. As an instructor for Peloton, she teaches cycling, Pilates, dance cardio, and core strength, all through on-demand and live formats to millions of people who subscribe to a Peloton membership.

One of Emma Lovewell’s favorite Island destinations is the historic Vose Boathouse on Edgartown Harbor, which is owned by her extended family.
Christine Sargologos

She is also a sponsored athlete for both Under Armour and Hydrant, and is the founder of Live Learn Lovewell, a wellness brand dedicated to cultivating a balanced lifestyle by sharing recipes as well as home, lifestyle, fitness, and travel tips. In 2021 she collaborated with the fashion brand Sene to design a line of sustainable, casual jeans, a staple in her off-the-bike wardrobe.

She is, in other words, a wellness powerhouse, who even before joining Peloton in 2017 had a successful career as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, professional dancer, fitness model, and disc jockey, which she will detail in a memoir, Live Learn Love Well: Lessons from a Life of Progress Not Perfection (Ballantine Books), due out next year. But before all of that, she was a self-described wallflower at the Edgartown School – the daughter of Mark Lovewell, a writer and photographer for the Vineyard Gazette, and Teresa Yuan, an artist, gardener, and her personal role model. And she definitely didn’t see herself as aspirational or the center of attention.

“My mom is from Taiwan and there’s not a large Asian community on the Island at all,” Lovewell recalled. At the Edgartown School, where she attended kindergarten through eighth grade, she felt different. “I noticed a difference when my friends would come over for dinner and say things like, ‘Wow, I’ve never had food like this before,’ or I would bring lunch and they would ask what that egg thing I was eating was,” she said.

Feeling offbeat and othered extended beyond taking Chinese tea eggs to school.

“There were times when I was a little embarrassed....I would go to friends’ houses and my friends’ moms were so friendly and affectionate and my mother wouldn’t even remember my friends’ names....I got really frustrated with her. We didn’t have a ton of money and my friends would go on these vacations. I used to wonder why we couldn’t go to Jamaica or why we didn’t have a pool at home. We shopped at thrift stores and I wore hand-me-downs. We didn’t have what everyone else had.”

Young Lovewell with her mother, Teresa Yuan, at home in Edgartown.
Courtesy Emma Lovewell

None of that mattered inside the home, where she was supported and encouraged to shine. The five o’clock news was a daily ritual. “We loved Connie Chung in our household. She looked just like my mom and I had never seen an Asian authority figure except for my mom. It was really important to see that representation,” she remembered.

“My dad had a big VHS camcorder, and I would pretend to tell the news or the weather and he would record....It’s so funny that my job is a weird culmination of being a dancer, newscaster, and inspirational speaker, all these weird interests I had as a child.”

When she was eight, Lovewell’s father, who is himself a singer and performer, promised her $200 if she sang a song at the students’ piano recital rather than just play the instrument. She had been taking lessons for about three years at that point. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s so much money. Sure, I’ll do it!’ I remember my little fingers shaking on the keys, but I did it and afterward my dad gave my mom an envelope of cash and she put it straight into the bank for my college fund.”

When Lovewell was twelve, her parents separated. “That was a difficult time,” she said, “but I still look back at my childhood and I am so lucky that I was raised on the Island.”

The effects of that upbringing are apparent in many of her personality traits and interests today. Lovewell has hallmarks of what many Vineyard-born-and-raised girls have: a sense of adventure, an appreciation for the sea, a connection to nature, a love for garden-grown food, a desire to explore, and a wicked sense of humor. She also has a fierce competitive edge, which she honed at Island schools. First, it was “Go Eagles!” Then it was “Go Vineyarders!”

At the regional high school, Lovewell divided her time between many extracurricular activities, including theater and varsity soccer (below).
Mark Alan Lovewell

It was at the Edgartown School that one might have glimpsed the first indications of her future as a fitness superstar, at a decidedly non-sporting event: the annual lip sync contest. “I remember my brother, Alan, doing it with a group of friends when he was in junior high. You had to be in third grade, so when I hit third grade, I knew I was doing it,” she said. “I was always a shy kid, but for whatever reason I knew I had to do it. I was obsessed with Mariah Carey at the time and I did Mariah Carey’s ‘Dream Lover.’” For the performance she wore a leotard bodysuit with jeans over it and a vest. “I felt very cool,” she said with a laugh. 

The performance was so enjoyable it became an annual event. “Here’s the thing,” she said laughing, “I won it every year.” In middle school she began taking dance classes at a small gym at the Edgartown Triangle, and in eighth grade she choreographed a group dance with friends to a Destiny’s Child song. Of course, she was Beyoncé.

At the regional high school, Lovewell continued to sing and dance by joining the prestigious choral group the Minnesingers. There, she met Jil Matrisciano [Loughman], a young choreographer. “She was young and still my teacher, but she was like the cool young choreographer I could relate to. I remember having the best time ever when she taught us dance,” Lovewell said. Loughman would go on to open RISE Vineyard Performing Arts, a dance studio in Vineyard Haven, where Lovewell remembers being a teacher for a hip-hop dance camp one summer.

She was also a varsity athlete who played both soccer and lacrosse. “I remember the sports director didn’t love that I was taking dance classes, and the dance teachers didn’t always love if I was late to rehearsal, but I was trying to fit it all in, which makes sense now,” Lovewell said. “I remember knowing that I had good footwork because I was in dance class. I am a strong team player, and I show up. I’m a stronger dancer because I played sports. I could take direction well and I could learn in a group environment.”

That environment, plus her own hard work and drive, would prepare her for a self-defined career at the nexus of athletics and performance. But surprisingly, given her trajectory, Lovewell said it wasn’t a coach or a teammate who influenced her the most. It was an English teacher.

Mark Alan Lovewell

To hear her tell it, Lovewell’s father wanted her to take an advanced English class with Daniel Sharkovitz in her junior year, but her sophomore year teacher didn’t think her grades were good enough to handle the course. Her father pushed her to ask the guidance counselor to intercede, which she did, but the counselor said, “If your teacher doesn’t recommend it, you shouldn’t take it.” With one last attempt, her father set up a meeting with Sharkovitz over the summer. Lovewell gave him some writing samples to read. He then “looked up at me and said, ‘You’ll be fine. Take my class.’

“The first day of that class I looked around and I thought: I don’t belong here,” she said. But then Sharkovitz came around the corner with hand puppets acting out a lesson he was about to introduce. “I remember laughing so hard and thinking this guy is so funny,” she said. Sharkovitz, who died in 2020, had a different approach to teaching, one that reached her.

“So many people in your life can tell you you’re not good at something and one person can tell you that you are good at it and it changes your trajectory,” she said, choking up. “I got an A in that class, my writing got published in the high school newspaper, and I got into some good schools.”

In 2020, now-retired regional high school physical education teacher Kathy Perrotta was taking one of Lovewell’s Peloton classes when she got the idea to have Lovewell speak to her alma mater. Perrotta thought it would be beneficial for students to hear about Lovewell’s memories of growing up on the Vineyard and her career experience since leaving the high school they would soon graduate from.

“[Sharkovitz] made such a big impact on my life and I never got to say that to him,” Lovewell told students. “I really wanted to tell someone that, so I told them.

For the past five years, Lovewell has led live and on-demand virtual cycling classes that are seen by millions.
Courtesy Peloton

“One thing I loved about his class was that you could always rewrite a paper and rewrite it and rewrite it until you got the grade you wanted.”

Today, Lovewell applies that lesson to life. In her online workouts and interviews she has a few catchphrases she’s known for repeating. One of them is “start a million times.” On the Peloton bike and app, you can repeat the same workout as many times as you want. If you miss a bike ride or hip-hop class one day, you can start again the next day. There’s no end to starting.

It’s a lesson that also explains the path Lovewell took to her current perch atop a Peloton bike at the center of a studio. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Honors College with individual concentrations in Chinese and mass communication, she moved to New York City to become a professional dancer and performed with such artists as Snoop Dogg, Björk, and the Rolling Stones. From there she got into fitness modeling and signed with Wilhelmina Models, booking jobs with major fitness and lifestyle brands and magazines. She also continued to exercise to stay in shape as a dancer and fitness model and had several friends that were fitness trainers. Lovewell started teaching indoor cycling classes and received certifications in personal training, Pilates, pre- and post-natal fitness, TRX, and kettlebells.

In 2012 she landed an acting gig that set her on her current path. It was for Peloton’s Kickstarter campaign, where she met the founder and early team at Peloton. In 2017 she contacted John Foley, who was then the CEO, to see if there were any job opportunities. He brought Lovewell in for an audition, and she was offered a job. “I knew Peloton was bigger than any other gig as a trainer when I accepted the job in 2017,” she said.

At the time, Peloton’s concept was relatively new, combining at-home old-school workouts in the vein of Jane Fonda with high-end, unified workout equipment and the benefits of modern technology and sleek production. The company’s objectives aligned perfectly with Lovewell’s background in sports and performance, even with her own at-home VHS newscast practices and college degree.

Lovewell (left) and fellow instructor Ally Love (right) teaching dance cardio to Usher (middle) on the Peloton platform.
Courtesy Peloton

“I loved the idea of bringing the boutique fitness experience into people’s homes,” said Lovewell. “It felt like all of my years as a dancer, model/actor, and fitness instructor were the perfect ingredients for this job and to make a positive impact on a large number of people. I loved that Peloton was innovative, a technology company but also a media company.”

As luck would have it – if one can say that anything was lucky about a pandemic – Peloton’s business plan was perfectly suited to the global shutdown of 2020, which saw the widespread closure of gyms and the simultaneous need to find new ways to connect with others while staying healthy. (The late-pandemic stage has not been as kind to the company. Even as it remains a cultural juggernaut, Peloton has posted consecutive losses and seen a shake up of its corporate structure.)

As the company’s popularity exploded in 2020, so did Lovewell’s. In early March of that year, Ellen DeGeneres told her talk show audience that her Peloton bike was the best invention since the Cadillac margarita. Her favorite instructor? “Emma Lovewell.”

A year later, in 2021, Lovewell appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for Scotts Miracle-Gro alongside Martha Stewart, John Travolta, Kyle Busch, Carl Weathers, and Leslie David Baker. “Come on, Leslie, crush your core!” she yells to Baker from her blue yoga mat on the green grass where she is propped up in a side plank, her arm stretched high in the air.

Christine Sargologos

“I don’t crush, Emma,” a funny and disgruntled Baker, who is manning a grill, shouts back.

Today, more than a decade after her first Peloton acting gig, Lovewell is an immediately recognizable, and often recognized, part of the company brand. As for her own brand, it often bears the marks of her Vineyard roots. She’s affectionately dubbed the “crunchy” one by co-workers and fans and is known to tell stories and metaphors about caring for the earth in class, distracting participants with the right story and the right beat. On Instagram, she shares photos and videos of her New York home and gardening endeavors; her cats, Kimchi and Rhody; and her visits to the Island that feature her mom at work in her lovingly tended Edgartown garden and her dad sailing and singing sea chanteys. On, she occasionally shares Asian-inspired recipes, now fully embracing the cuisine that once made her self-conscious in the Edgartown cafeteria.

That may explain why she still gets fired up when she sees Edgartown or Martha’s Vineyard listed as a rider’s location. “It’s been really fun slowly seeing more and more people with Vineyard names on the leader board. It really blows my mind,” she said. “As a small-town girl, to see my name and face in a local magazine or to be recognized is so amazing to me. The Vineyard is so small.” Then again, so was Peloton when she first joined the company. “But now Peloton is so big,” she said, “so well known.”