April 21, 2017
Christa Gurka in David T. Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove
A basketball season can be as intense for the fans and the town as it is for the players on the court—especially in Miami. But if there’s one man who always seems surprisingly calm and collected, it’s Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. “He probably has more stress than anybody I’ve met in a long time,” says Christa Gurka, personal Pilates instructor to Spoelstra and scores of other high-profile clients. “There is a lot of pressure. He is on the road a lot; that means in buses, in different beds every week. But when he is here, he’s local. Doing something like Pilates helps to balance and align him so that he physically feels better. And the flexibility is great for him for all the sitting he does when he travels.
For Gurka, Spoelstra is just one of many clients to whom she is spreading the word—and the benefits—of Pilates in the South Florida area. Cofounder and coowner of Pilates in the Grove and Pilates on the Beach, Gurka is also an orthopedic physical therapist specializing in rehabilitation and injury prevention.
She opened Pilates on the Beach in 2008—right in the middle of a recession. The question was, were people going to pay $30 a class? In a town so heavily focused on fitness, the answer was a very confident yes.
“We started small, and I think people really appreciated having a small-class environment instead of going to a [gym] class with 20 to 30 other people,” Gurka says of her success. “We have six to seven people in a class.”
By 2010, Gurka had opened her second outpost, Pilates in the Grove, and began hiring physical therapists, which attracted a clientele who wanted safe exercise with expert rehabilitation capabilities. “We were getting people that really wanted to exercise but didn’t know exactly where to go,” she recalls. “Once you start to improve someone’s function in everyday life, you are going to hook them in, thinking, This is the exercise for me!”
Those life improvements could be shared with a population that needed it most. Soon, doctors began showing interest, and Gurka found a new calling: offering stretching and strengthening therapy to breast cancer survivors. Under the umbrella of the Pink Ribbon program, Gurka and her team of certified physical therapists teach a Pilates class geared toward women who have had mastectomies and breast cancer surgeries. “These women have these surgeries and they’re scared that they are going to get injured,” Gurka explains. “Here, clients can come in and learn how to improve their posture, mobility, and their shoulders after the surgery. It builds a support system that can guide them to a true return to life.”
Through doctor and word-of-mouth referrals and fundraisers, Gurka and her team have built a range of clients from 20-year survivors to the recently diagnosed. “The biggest thing is to get the younger clientele back on track and tell them that they are going to be okay and continue to lead a good life.”
With plans for a third location, her clients aren’t the only ones benefiting from Gurka’s magic touch. As her business continues to expand, let’s hope Gurka continues to help Spoelstra flex his championship muscle for a third season in a row. 712 W. 51st St., Miami Beach, 305-538-5300
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICK GARCIA