On a recent Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. — while many of us were still blinking awake over our coffee mugs — the Pilates in Paradise studio in Tavernier was humming with activity.
In the back of the room, owner Christi Allen Franchini led two apprentice teachers through a floor mat exercise; on the right side, next to the mirrors, staffer Chris Hoguet watched as a client stretched on Pilates equipment.
“Flex, point, roll down, over, flex, point, again,” said Franchini kindly, yet firmly. She stood erect with perfect posture, her eyes bright and alert, hair springing outward in curls.
“Keep that back line, that’s right,” she continued. “Don’t drop the legs, Deb.”
Franchini took a quick break to chat with an observer. “Like I was saying, pilates is my superpower. But I have an injury, so I am getting physical therapy. All of us here at the studio have injuries and issues. … And what is really good to know is: PT is not forever. Pilates is forever,” she said.
Suddenly, she turned her attention back to her apprentices. “Make sure you put the pelvis down before spinning your legs,” she called out.
Franchini’s passion for Pilates has been a through line in her life, giving her the focus and resilience to create a successful business with two studios, a teacher certification program, philanthropic efforts and plenty of happy students. Toss a rock in the Upper Keys, and you’ll probably hit someone who either knows Franchini or has gone to Pilates in Paradise, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Bear in mind: That means Franchini’s business prospered despite the 2009 recession, Hurricane Irma and the pandemic.
“Christi is very persistent and persuasive,” said Carolyn Cochrane, a longtime student. “When she first started she was in (a small office in Key Largo). Whenever she would relocate, she’s always been trying to improve her facility, and she’s done a great job.”
And she certainly seems to have it all. She’s happily married to boat captain Victor Franchini and mom to two children. But as with any superhero origin story, Allen has hit her share of challenges. She had a less-than-sterling college career in Washington State, then she opened — and closed — a clothing boutique in Tallahassee. Twenty years ago, she found her way to the Florida Keys as a personal trainer, but she had a setback when she tore the ACL in her knee. After two surgeries, she could no longer run. But while her body healed, she practiced Pilates.
“I thought I was going to be a wreck,” she said. “But because of Pilates, I was able to run after taking two years off. … The doctors were amazed.”
She was hooked, and a business was born. She wanted to give students the vitality that Pilates had given her. She took a teacher certification program in New York under Joe Pilates’ protégé Romana Kryzanowska.
“I love this part of Pilates,” she said. “It feeds my soul — helping everyday people that deal with physical limitations that don’t allow them to say yes to life. … Pilates opens the door to being able to say yes to things you want to do.”
A few years back, Hoguet found himself at a crossroads. As a disabled veteran, he wanted to give back to other vets while also finding a vocation that was healing. He discovered Pilates in Paradise’s special program for veterans, who can take classes at a discounted rate. The project was created by former staffer Kerri Bender (who has since moved). Bender and Franchini encouraged Hoguet to be a teacher himself, and he jumped at the opportunity.
“Pilates in Paradise has had a big effect on my life,” he said. “My pain level has dramatically decreased, and it has given me the opportunity to help others.”
Franchini has created a family of happy students, and they are not all the lithe, skinny, finely sculpted models that popular culture may have us believe. They are everyone from high school football players to mothers who have just given birth. One longtime student, Pat Miller, is 87 and has had knee, shoulder and hip replacements.
As for the future, Franchini is planning a Pilates-themed boat cruise and continuing her teacher certification program so she can spread her message up and down the Keys.
“Yesterday, I worked with a client who, when she first came to me, walked in bent over and crooked with nerve pain down her leg. Some years later, she showed me pictures of her dancing and dropping it like it’s hot. … Pilates is an exercise method that heals your body. When you do it with proper alignment and proper mechanics, it will change your life.”
More information about Pilates in Paradise studios in Ocean Reef and Tavernier is available at [email protected], 305-453-0801 or @PilatesInParadise on Facebook.