Plus, what it was like to tell her parents that she was dating a woman for the first time.
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Jess King was transitioning out of what she calls "a dark night of the soul" when she first laid eyes on Sophia Urista. Almost eight years ago, long before the fiery redhead became a household name as one of Peloton's top cycling, running, and Pilates coaches, the former professional dancer and So You Think You Can Dance contestant was nursing a broken heart...again. (Check out: The Best Peloton Instructor to Match Your Workout Style)

"I kept choosing partners that were not right for me and these relationships always ended in really messy breakups — the kind where you have to pick yourself up off the ground and you just feel really broken at the end," says King during a Zoom call from her home in New York City. "I was really focused on personal development and healing and had just started working with a therapist to try and understand my patterns." (Related: Hypnosis Was the Only Thing That Helped Me Get Back Into Dating)

Coinciding with King's self-exploration was a new career change. "At the same, I'd started working at this club in New York City called The Box that's got this burlesque and cabaret-style late-night show, and it was always a place that I'd wanted to work," she says. "I walked into a rehearsal and she was on stage."

"She" was Urista, a singer-songwriter who took the stage as the show's host and emcee. King had never romantically pursued a relationship with a woman but didn't think twice about boldly approaching the curly-haired artist. "I'm someone who's a risk-taker, and I like the thrill of putting myself in uncomfortable situations, so I walked up to her and I said, 'hey, do you wanna hook up?'" King recalls with a laugh. "And she was like 'no, I don't know you, and I'm in a relationship...but we can be friends.'" (Related: Queer Yoga Teacher Kathryn Budig Is Embracing Pride As the 'Most Real Version' of Herself)

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Credit: Getty Images

The two grew closer over the next year, but when a newly single Urista took a temporary job in Helsinki, Finland, it was clear she couldn't get King off her mind. "She started reaching out to me on WhatsApp and we said when she came back, we'd get together," says King. "I guess you would call that our first date."

More than six years later, the two are stronger than ever. In fact, Urista proposed last fall during a debut watch party for her video, "Everything About You," inspired by and starring King. The duo also co-host the Instagram cooking series, "Ooo Mami!" featuring their hijinx in the kitchen, preparing and serving up an array of dishes. And while King credits the relationship with helping her navigate away from destructive patterns of her past, she's still discovering new ways their partnership continues to shape and enrich the ways she shows up in the world.

"I would say I'm only recently starting to claim it as an identity — it still doesn't resonate for me," she says. "Like when somebody says, 'are you gay, are you lesbian, are you bisexual?' I'm like, I'm all of that — I'm whatever you want it to be. I'm just free. I don't put restrictions or limitations to love in my life, but if you feel you need that to know me and to be comfortable, that's kind of on you. I love the LGBTQ community. I love being a part of it, and whatever letter you want to assign to me that year, that day, I'm cool with it." (Read: Trainer Jesse Corbin Shares His Coming Out Journey Through an Empowering Virtual Workout)

While labels don't resonate with King, she is compelled to claim a space in the LGBTQ community — a group she says has embraced her with open arms and one she feels called to represent as a public figure. "I do feel it's important that I take a stand for my love," she says. "And to be out and live my life freely and openly to show that you can be successful. You can work in an environment and live in an environment where you're not discriminated against and you can be celebrated and loved. And I realize that's very privileged and unique. Peloton is a unicorn company — and how perfect that a unicorn like myself would be welcomed and invited and seen and celebrated."

King says when she joined Peloton in 2014, she wasn't yet sure how her evolving identity might jive with the newly launched brand but quickly found that the team offered her unconditional support from the start. "I'd always been with men and kind of led with my sexuality in that way, being flirtatious — even as a dancer, you're onstage and trying to use your body to say something," she explains. "And because my life had radically shifted, I thought, 'I'm not going to lead with that here, my brand is no longer my sexuality or being sexy — I want to say something more.' I wanted to speak to the human experience and tap into the heart and soul of our members. It was about deconstructing the model I'd followed for so long and figuring out how to show up in the world. I had the opportunity to redefine that and decide how I wanted to show up."

Even before King came out to her friends or family, she turned to the Peloton team with the news of her new relationship with Urista. "I was worried, thinking, 'am I going to fit in?'" she says. "Some of my questions were, 'do you think I'm still going to be successful if I'm a lesbian on the platform? Will male members still want to ride with me if they know they don't have a chance with me?' I was working through all these preliminary questions that begin when you're stepping into a new identity, or rebranding yourself if you will. I'm not somebody who really hides anything — these are the people I see all the time. It was almost like, 'I'm so excited, I want to share this with you, I'm so happy, and I'm doing something so thrilling and seeing a woman — that's okay, right?' In retrospect, it was a silly question because of everything we stand for at Peloton." (Related: Peloton Instructor Kendall Toole Is Laying It All Out There When It Comes to Her Mental Health Struggles)

King then began opening up to the people closest to her — and the conversations weren't always easy. "It felt weird to have been dating someone for four months and to have not told my mom," she says of her mother Ximena Bernales."At first, she thought it was a phase and it would pass. I'm pretty adamant and relentless, and I was like, 'no it's not.' It progressed into, 'this is not my dream for you,' and harsh words were exchanged."

Hurt by the situation, King called her dad to blow off some steam — and took him by surprise. "My parents have been divorced since I was like four, but have always been a team when it comes to me," she says. "I was like, 'mom is being mean to me and saying awful things because I'm dating a woman and she's going off rails — I need you to call and fix it!' He was like, 'wait, what? You're dating a woman?'"

Despite the initial shock, King says her father almost immediately embraced her decision. "He's so loving," she says. "He was like, 'it doesn't really matter what you do, you always land on your feet.' What he cares about is my wellbeing, my happiness, if I'm loved, if I'm doing well in my life. And all those things were happening, so he's supportive and adores Sophia."

It didn't take long for King's mother to follow suit. "She came to New York about a week after that very uncomfortable conversation and met Sophia," she says. "She said, 'I get it. I see it. I see you're happy.' And they had a conversation, asking some tough questions, like 'what are intentions?' and 'what is this about?' It was less about 'you're a woman,' and more about, 'Jessica has made some poor decisions in the past — are you another one?' She was trying to get to the bottom of that and then realized there was only love and respect and so much joy between us and thought, 'how could I want anything less for my daughter?'"

Not only are Urista and Bernales super close now, but King's mom recently made a special appearance on the latest episode of OOO...Mami! The cooking show is currently the couple's main focus, aside from the renovations they're planning for their recently purchased new home (fingers crossed they document their domestic upgrades in another captivating series). While they don't have a firm wedding date set, King is relishing in the positivity her relationship has fostered — both in her own life, and the lives of Peloton members. (Related: For Jess Sims, Her Rise to Peloton Fame Was All About the Right Timing)

"It's been beautiful," she says. "I feel totally embraced and celebrated by all types of people. I rarely receive inappropriate messages, and I think that has a lot to do with the way I show up, the things I lead with in terms of what I talk about — how my messages aren't just for a type of person; they're for everyone. People want to hear the message of transformation — of awakening to their own potential. It sounds so cliche, but it's true, that's what fitness gives you — that type of empowerment where you go, 'Wow, look what I can do, and if I can do that in this workout, what could I possibly do out in the world?'"

While Peloton has tapped King and several other instructors to take the lead on Pride-focused content this June, she says the brand goes above and beyond in cultivating acceptance, representation, and freedom of expression, all year round. "I think Peloton has done an incredible job at recognizing this community, from having a non-binary option on your profile bike to creating content that goes beyond just Pride month, and allowing all of the instructors who are out to be free," she says. "From the type of things Matty Maggiacomo does to how Cody [Rigsby] shows up — we're all encouraged to be wholly and authentically who we are and to turn the volume up on it. That's exciting because it makes life fun for me, and it also resonates with other people because I'm not alone. So many other people out there who are free or want to be free or who love love and who like to be weird and feel like they don't fit in boxes, who are creatives and love movement, and love music, and love to have a good time — those are my people." (Related: How Tunde Oyeneyin Overcame Self-Doubt and Body Struggles to Become a Peloton Phenomenon)

And for the members of her Peloton and LGBTQIA+ communities who haven't yet found their voice, King offers some wisdom that helped her along her journey: "Brene Brown says it's about being brave and afraid at the same time," she says. "I feel that way before every Jess King Experience ride or when I'm stepping on stage or giving a speech or doing anything that's big or overwhelming. It's that feeling of nerves that tells me that I'm going in the right direction and that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. When it comes to love or going for things in life that matter most, you're going to be brave and afraid at the same time; it's about not being intimidated or shutting down but being fiercely courageous."