Astoria Characters: The Fitness Partners

She’s a real estate lawyer.

He’s a personal trainer.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Apostolis and Despina are the owners of FORTE.

Together, they are FORTE.

 The name of their newly opened fitness and recovery center, in all caps, signifies strength.

Of the whole body. Of the whole mind. Of the whole soul.

Despina Manoloudas, a toned woman whose bouncy dark hair is done up in a half ponytail, met Apostolis Bacalis, a muscle man with tatted sleeves, shaved head and dark, brooding eyes, nearly eight years ago when she helped him create a limited liability company for his personal-training business.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
FORTE is at 38-05 20th Ave.

She, a breast cancer survivor, had always been interested in holistic health and athletic pursuits.

The Astoria native – she’s generation No. 3, just in case anyone is counting, and her father hails from the seaport of Kavala, Greece – fell hard for the law in high school, so much so that she memorized the U.S. Constitution and carried it with her at all times.

“I had a history teacher who made the subject fun,” she says and shrugs.

For balance, she took ballet lessons and dove into sports such as volleyball.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Despina working out.

In college – she has a bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University and a law degree from Touro University – she worked in a doctor’s office, rotating between Whitestone and Astoria.

Meanwhile, Apostolis, whose father is Greek and whose mother is Colombian, was growing up in Athens, where he lived until he moved to New York City in 2012 to work on his master’s degree in sports biomechanics and sports business at St. John’s University.

Like Despina, he was an avid athlete and so accomplished in track that he played on Greece’s national team.

For a while, he worked for the Special Olympics then as a physical education teacher at a Greek-American school in Flushing and as a personal trainer in other people’s gyms.

Restless and ambitious and tired of desk duty, he decided to open his own boutique personal-training company, Forte Fitness, which is why he went to Despina’s office in 2015.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Despina’s a real estate lawyer.

Despina became one of his clients.

So things stood until the pandemic made everyone rethink their lives.

“I love the law, but I wasn’t made to sit behind a desk all the time,” she says.

Despina, who always wanted to create her own business centered around health and wellness, began doing research on fitness centers, focusing on franchises, and Apostolis began thinking about expanding his company.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Despina works the battle ropes.

Their holistic ideas merged when he saw her fitness-center posts on Instagram, and their partnership was forged.

FORTE is the result.

FORTE, which is in a former warehouse next to the Dollar Tree discount store on 20th Avenue, tunes up the body, mind and soul through small guided classes and one-on-one training sessions in everything from yoga and meditation to weight lifting.

Its recovery lab has an infrared sauna and a plunge pool.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Apostolis was born and raised in Athens.

“It’s an all-encompassing space,” Despina says. “Everything is under one roof.”

To demonstrate, she takes a spin on the stationary bike then squats to do a short workout with the battle ropes.

“FORTE isn’t just about picking up dumbbells,” she says. “It’s about connecting body and mind. It’s about building a community.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Apostolis has a master’s degree in sports biomechanics and sports business.

Despina and Apostolis have lots of ideas for the future well-being of FORTE, which opened in October 2022.

Despina has reduced her law-office hours so she can devote more time to FORTE.

“The possibilities for FORTE are endless,” she says as she greets her next personal-training client. “Apostolis and I each have the same vision: We want to help people.”

He nods in agreement.

Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling