The first time Gina Vaccaro drove to the gym, she didn’t get out of her car.
“I felt intimidated,” she says.
She had just had her first baby, and what with breastfeeding and trying to take care of him instead of herself, she was still carrying around 50 extra pounds on her small frame.
“I knew I had to get moving,” she says. “And I knew I really wanted to take spinning and Pilates.”
Sometime later, she did manage to find the courage to work out her insecurities. Her first foray – at a different gym – left her exhausted yet excited.
“I was wearing baggy sweatpants and after spinning, my face stayed as red as a tomato for a day,” she says. “But I loved it and mat Pilates.”
Gina kept working out “like an animal” five times a week and started eating healthy. She lost most of those 50 pounds within a year.
She also gained something she never bargained for — a new career.
Gina, who has beautiful biceps and cascading curls, is strong of mind and muscle. She grew up in Wantagh, Long Island, a middle child framed by two brothers.
She most decidedly was not an athletic youngster.
“I never played competitive sports,” she says.
Nor was she a scholar. “I really was interested in art,” she says. “College was not an option.”
So when she got her high school diploma, she got her first job, doing clerical work.
“It wasn’t enough for me,” she says. “I needed to get a real job.”
Instead, at 23, she went back to school, earning a degree in fine arts from Nassau Community College then a bachelor’s degree in interior design from New York Institute of Technology.
She built her career and family during the same time period, working on interior design projects and giving birth to her two sons.
In 2004, Gina, newly divorced, made a new home for herself and her young sons in Astoria.
“I had a family member living here,” she says. “But my sons and I lived by ourselves.”
She had every intention of continuing with her interior design work, and she even started adding residential projects to her portfolio, which primarily was commercial.
It soon became apparent that she needed to find work that was closer to home.
“My objectives were fitness and taking care of my kids,” she says.
She continued to work out while she was working out the details of her new life as a single mom.
“Everybody at the gym kept telling me that I should teach,” she says, adding that she got certified in spinning and Pilates. “This was an appealing idea because I could take my sons with me while I was giving classes.”
After developing the Pilates program at Astoria’s Club Fitness New York and renting training space on the Upper East Side, Gina opened Zend Avesta Pilates on 27th Street in the garage of her apartment.
“The name is the translation of ancient Persian scriptures,” she says. “I liked it because it contains the word ‘zen.’”
Gina’s zen caught on, and in 2014, she opened a second studio, this time in the basement of her apartment, so she could hold group classes in contemporary Pilates.
The studios, where tranquility and training run in tandem, are intimate and infused with positivity and a sense of spirituality. In the main studio, where four to eight people can work out simultaneously, there’s a Buddha by the door.
“Pilates is an insurance policy for your body,” she says. “People come to my classes because they want to change their lives. They want to strengthen their mental and physical muscles.”
Gina helps them do that, training people, in groups and individually, from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. six days a week.
“I make myself stop at 8:30,” she says. “I jump on the bike for workouts four to five times a week. When I do Pilates, I concentrate only on one area of my body.”
Soon, Gina will expand Zend Avesta Pilates; she’ hoping to open another location in Scarsdale. That studio will focus on The Mastermind Cycling & Pilates program, which, she says, creates a “positive mindset that will bring a favorable outcome to the uncomfortable situation you are experiencing.”
And that’s just the beginning. Gina envisions a time when the Zend Avesta Pilates brand is a household name.
“I feel I was destined to do this healing work,” she says as people start coming in for the first class of the day. “I love helping people feel better.”
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019.
Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling