“On 4/3/15 I woke up like the picture on the left. I’d had a stroke in my sleep which caused a palsy in the 3rd nerve of my brain, causing my right eye to swing out. I saw two of everything and could only see straight if I closed one eye. It’s taken over a year and a half, 3 surgeries, an ocean of tears, and the desperate need to regain my life to get ME back. I took the pic on the right just after taking my new SoulCycle instructor photos — hence the incredible and very fake lashes. I never imagined having the courage to share the ‘before’ pic, but think it’s important to recognize and celebrate the journey, no matter how painful. Unlike so many stories, this one has a happy ending, one that will hopefully inspire determination and hope!”
-Emma Zaks, Facebook post, November 18, 2016
This is the story of Emma Zaks, a bubbly, energetic, and very popular SoulCycle instructor. Those who ride with Emma watched this healthy and fit 33-year old woman go through an unimaginable two-year journey — becoming increasingly ill with debilitating symptoms, both gastro-intestinal and neurological, that ultimately resulted in a stroke.
On and off the SoulCycle schedule at first, Emma began subbing out her classes for other instructors. Then followed a long absence. She would later return to teach — a patch on one eye and face swollen from the steroids doctors had prescribed for devastating symptoms no one really could explain. An autoimmune disease of some sort was the rumor. As is her nature, Emma remained her upbeat self through it all, or so it appeared, never letting her riders see the pain and fear going on inside.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending. After her illness was finally diagnosed and treated, Emma started posting little bits of her journey on Facebook. So moved and overwhelmed by her strength and bravery, we asked her to tell us what happened from beginning to end. This is her story in her own words…. and her Facebook posts.