RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rick Burke works his triceps -- with a little help from 4-year-old son Massimiliano Torcia-Burke -- during a break between his personal training sessions at the Body Balance Centre on Young Street. Burke's wife, Maria Torcia-Burke, started the Pilates studio in 1998.
Fit as a family
Active lifestyle is natural to couple's business and personal routines
Rick Burke and his wife, Maria, know there are drawbacks to owning and operating a business with your spouse. Dinner conversations, for instance, always revolve around work.
But when the work revolves around fitness, there are also a few advantages. One glance at the Burke family makes that clear.
Indeed, Rick Burke and Maria Torcia-Burke are walking advertisements for Body Balance Centre, the Pilates studio they co-own.
Maria, who was born and raised in Italy, typically wears her long blond hair loose over her shoulders, her spandex workout pants and sports top showing off a tan, toned figure so impressive that she models for their brochure.
Rick, 36, carries 210 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-6 frame. And their 4-year-old son, Massimiliano, is as flexible and bouncy as a gymnast, can hike Tantalus for hours (without asking to be carried) and will happily instruct visitors regarding proper technique on the equipment.
On one particularly busy day in the studio last week, Massimiliano navigated over and around a specialized apparatus while his parents tended to clients. When asked what he does when he's not in school, he grabbed the skin caliper used to analyze body composition and said with a mischievous grin, "I told you, I do Pilates!" Then he informed the visitor that he would measure her body fat momentarily.
Not that Rick and Maria's child would know anything about body fat.
For this, Maria credits Pilates, which focuses on core strength, flexibility, posture, coordination, breathing and mind/body awareness. The principles involve stabilizing the pelvis, rib cage, shoulders and neck, and trying to achieve a "neutral spine," which maintains the natural curve of the back during exercise.
"Pilates can definitely transform you," said Maria, 41. "I'm not saying it can make you lose weight, but it will change the shape of your body."
Maria moved to Hawaii about 11 years ago and speaks three languages beyond her native Italian (at home she speaks Italian to her son, though Rick has yet to master the language).
"I left Milan to come here because I've always loved this place," she said. "I've always had this attraction to Hawaii."
It all started as a hobby for Maria, who was an avid triathlete before she discovered Pilates. She wanted to supplement her swimming, biking and running with stretching and strengthening, and began taking classes. But when she came to Hawaii, a long waiting list interfered with her training. So in 1998, Maria decided to start her own business. Her client list consisted of four names.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Body Balance Centre on Young Street is a family affair for Rick Burke, left, his wife, Maria Torcia-Burke, and their son, Massimiliano.
After graduating from college in Iowa and playing Arena Football for two seasons in Connecticut, Rick moved to Hawaii to continue playing football in 1995 -- about the same time Maria moved. Eventually, he became a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness, and she was one of his clients.
While he trained Maria, she encouraged him to try Pilates to ease the back problems that football had caused. His devotion to the techniques blossomed with their relationship.
But it wasn't just the beautiful instructor that attracted him to the lifestyle sport. "I realized I could do so much more with people with Pilates," said Rick, who works with everyone from top athletes to injured clients requiring physical therapy. "We're able to follow through, and people can take it to whatever level of fitness they want."
Maria and Rick -- and informal word-of-mouth publicity -- have built their clientele to approximately 300. She hopes to expand the business into a full-service wellness center with yoga and healing body treatments.
Their biggest challenge now is recruiting and training qualified staff because the business is so specialized. Currently, they have two physical therapists and six trainers working for them as independent contractors.
Though running an enterprise with a spouse is not ideal, both agreed that it has brought them closer and allowed them to complement each other.
"I'm more system-oriented," said Rick. "She's more creative."
Most of their clients have been women, but that is beginning to change.
"I'm getting more and more men," said Maria, who estimated that 30 percent of their clients are male. "They thought that Pilates was for women only, and I think they're realizing that it's not that easy. It's not just about going through the motions." Many of them, according to Rick, want to improve their golf swing or avoid back injuries.
In the midst of personal training sessions and classes, Rick and Maria juggle parenting duties. During a recent break in the schedule, Rick cradled his son on the Gyrotonic strength-training machine. Then in a playful burst of energy, he helped his son climb on his back and lifted the 55-pound boy behind his head to work his triceps, which prompted a huge grin from the upside-down Massimiliano.
But it wasn't long before the steady stream of fitness devotees from Hawaii and the mainland resumed.
"One of the reasons we've been successful is because we've been able to adapt to make it convenient for our clients, not necessarily convenient for us," said Rick.
A typical weekday involves working out in the morning before assuming their instructor roles. Maria will run on the beach for 40 minutes and maybe lift weights, or come early to work and participate in one of her staff members' classes. Teaching a class, which she often does later, doesn't count as a workout because she is so busy watching over people and correcting their positions.
Rick starts his day with light stretching before training clients. He lifts weights in the middle of the day and might take a Pilates class in the afternoon. Sundays are reserved for family -- often spent at the beach, where Rick surfs and Maria and Massimiliano jog together.
"I'd like to say I'm disciplined," Rick laughed, "but Maria is the driving force behind keeping us all exercising."
And that's likely to keep the Burke family in business for a long time.
The Body Balance Centre is at 1115 Young St. in McCully. Call 596-8663.