Pilates & Company co-owner, Cindy and long-time client, Nicole Marionni had an awesome heart-to-heart chat about teaching, Pilates, and her journey through one of the darkest times in her life. She shares with us her raw, personal story from never exercising before, through breast cancer, and where she is today. Nicole is an amazing, hilarious, and courageous woman. She has some great advice for anyone looking to start Pilates. We are so honored she is part of our thriving Pilates & Company community. Enjoy!
Nicole is a NJ native and comes from a family of educators. Her father taught for 50yrs and she is carrying on the family tradition. Nicole attended the University of Rhode Island and then completed her Masters degree at Drew University. She has been teaching in public schools for 25 years, and has been at Highland Park High School for 14 years. She loves the close-knit community here.
CV: What piqued your interest to start Pilates?
NM: I was a NEVER a sports person. I would rather sit and read a book than exercise any day of the week! I tried going to the gym and a few other things, but I never stuck with any fitness routine. In 2006, a friend recommended I see Wendy and try Pilates because I was feeling that I needed more flexibility, strength, and stamina.
I walked in and saw these crazy, robust machines, and I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I had the coordination or the strength to do Pilates. When I went to the gym and tried other group fitness classes, they were really, really intimidating and I felt very self-conscious, so I would give up. The small group environment that Wendy created was inviting. Wendy’s positive and encouraging attitude, non-judgement, and inspiration made me feel like I could do this Pilates thing.
CV: What was your ah-ha moment?
NM: This was the FIRST type of exercise that did NOT emphasize weight loss. With other exercise modalities, it is ONLY about weight loss. For most of my life I was self conscious about my body image, and for once it was liberating to exercise to FEEL and MOVE better, not just focus on my weight. From having a consistent Pilates practice my body has changed; I have strength and flexibility, and I look better. It is a plus that my clothes fit better too! I love the Pilates practice for my WHOLE self, not just what the scale says.
Pilates has become the time I make in the day for myself. That is something that became important to me that was never a priority in the past. Pilates is the space in my day that is just mine.
CV: You have been with us for over 10 years (WOW!), what are some things that stick out the most to you?
NM: The staff at Pilates & Company is unique and is the reason why I continue to come to Pilates. The classes are interesting and always incorporate different things to challenge our movement.
There are 2 exercises, to this day, that bring back the fondest memories. 1- Stand at back of Tower and punch with the arm springs. This makes me feel so empowered and releases so much tension and stress. 2-The Speed Skater, which is performed standing on the Reformer and sliding the carriage side to side. I remember being so scared the first few times, but I was able to do it. It was like I was on top of the world; it was the best feeling! I was so proud that I did it and overcame my fears.
CV: Would you mind sharing your breast cancer story?
NM: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. To say the least, my whole world was turned upside down. I stopped going to Pilates. I was depressed, discouraged, and felt horrible overall. I knew I couldn’t make it through a Pilates class physically or emotionally; the one thing in my life that brought me such joy. Cindy reached out to me and offered private sessions, so we could continue with Pilates and movement. Our sessions where designed to be whatever I needed that day; whether it be something more restorative, rehab based, or just basic Pilates to get my strength up. Working with Cindy even on my weakest days, feeling my most vulnerable, she gave me the emotional support and the physical release I needed. I’m so grateful for Pilates & Company. Some days Pilates was the only thing I could do. It gave me a purpose. It gave me a reason to get off the couch and out of the house. Pilates & Company became a ray of light in my otherwise darkest time. The community and support of the studio made it much easier for me to keep persevering. Everyone made me feel welcome and comfortable; I still felt like I had part of myself.
After radiation therapy I had frozen shoulder and problems on my left side. It was intimidating and, at times, frustrating to go back into classes because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do what I once was able to. All the instructors and other clients were so supportive and encouraging. The instructors provided modifications so I could regain my strength and mobility and have a great time. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t do everything, just being back in class was a comfort because it was something that I did before my cancer and it felt like I was back.
Today, I feel great! Pilates is a huge part of my life. I need to go at least 2x a week so I feel focused, I can clear my head, and feel grounded in who I am.
I may not be the strongest or most graceful; Heather’s class is so challenging, but it is so much fun! The barre work is one of the hardest workouts for me, but I still do it. Even though some workouts are more challenging and may not be the most comfortable, I feel encouraged and strong that I can at least try.
Parakeet (lying down on your back facing Tower, toes wrap around push thru bar, bridge up, extend one leg up) I feel like the strongest person in the world when I do this!
Least favorite exercise:
Tree on the Box! I hate that one! It never gets easier! Thank god there are no mirrors!
What exercises do you love to hate?!
Pilates practice is an Evolution… you learn and appreciate the concepts along with the advantages of the exercises and props. I used to call the Pilates Ring “the ring of fire,” but now I love it!
Mermaid on the box is just fascinating… everyone has a different focus when we do it… It’s true, no two mermaids are the same! Some days it’s completely beautiful and other days it’s a hot mess.
What advice to give someone that is thinking about starting Pilates?
Pilates is the best part of my day. I look forward to it. It is something you do for yourself. It is a sacred space for yourself.
I’m a voracious reader and avid crossword puzzle solver (with pencil and paper of course).
Gena has the best music! We get in trouble for singing when we should be breathing!