Q and A with Emily Mokwuyne and Connie Cooley, Winners of Our “Who Moves You” 40th Anniversary Contest

NOTE: Balanced Body recently completed our “Who Moves You” contest to celebrate our 40th year of healthy change through movement. The contest asked people to nominate a movement instructor that had gone “above and beyond” with a 250 word essay. After nearly two thousand incredibly inspiring nominations and close to 10,000 votes for our 5 finalists, our winner was announced on Tuesday. It’s Emily Mokwuyne of Pilates by Redhead in Florence, AL.

Emily wins $3,000 in Balanced Body products or education, plus an expenses-paid trip to Pilates on Tour in London. Connie wins $2,500 in continued sessions with Emily, plus a $500 Balanced Body Gift Certificate. Pilates by Redhead gets an expenses-paid trip to Pilates on Tour in London for up to 3 additional instructors.

You can read the winning essay here.

After the announcement we had a chance to talk with Emily and Connie about what Pilates and movement has meant to them.

Connie Cooley and Emily Mokwuyne
Connie Cooley and Emily Mokwuyne

Balanced Body: So Emily, what made you want to become a Pilates instructor?

Emily: Early in my college years as a pre-med student, I decided that being a doctor wasn’t for me. Yet, I knew that I wanted to work with the human body. In choosing a new path, I thought, “Why not choose a career that is focused on physical activity?”

I changed my major from biology to Exercise Science and took my first Pilates class near the completion of my internship at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport. I knew immediately that this was the kind of movement and exercise in which I wanted to train others. It must have been in the cards for me because at the end of that first class, I asked the owner if she was hiring, and she was. She interviewed, hired, and trained me. Here I am 14-years later, a full-time Pilates professional and entrepreneur with my own studio!

BB: What is the most gratifying aspect of your job? Has it changed over time?

Emily: In the beginning it was moving all day long rather than being stuck behind a desk, and leading others to prioritize movement in their lives, while learning about the amazing human body. Today, after gaining more skill and experience, gratification comes from the transformations my clients, like Connie, undergo. Their transformations range from new feats of strength and performance, to reduction and elimination of pain, to loving their bodies and themselves in a new way, to the realization of possibilities that they otherwise would have never seen as possible

BB: What was it like getting Connie through that time of healing?

Emily: Her essay really says it all. Together, we laugh, cry, get confused, question, explore, succeed, and celebrate.  We are friends with common interests in moving, functioning, aging, and being well. We also share the desire to help others learn how to do those things too. Connie is my first Pilates-teacher-in-training at Pilates by RedHead.

She was committed and enthusiastic. She already knew what was possible via Pilates and couldn’t wait to get to work at every session. She shied away from nothing when it came to progressing.

She was the first woman I had worked with straight out of a double mastectomy but to me she was not any different from anyone else. Every body that comes before me is what it is at that moment. She showed me each day—whether she realized it or not—what she was and was not ready for physically, emotionally, and intellectually. It was not about a specific breast cancer recovery protocol. It was about helping Connie tap into her own bio-intelligence where she could have a clear conversation with her body.

Connie allowed me to guide her into discovering the answers that her body already held. I am incredibly grateful to her for allowing me to be a part of that process.

BB: Connie, how did becoming a Pilates teacher-in-training come about?

Connie: I started taking Pilates after having a meniscus fixed.  I loved it!!  But time and money didn’t allow me to go as much as I would have liked to.  For 5 or 6 years I was hit and miss.  Once I inquired about becoming certified and the owners assured me I needed to at least be a nurse to be able to pass the test!

A Google search brought me to Pilates by Redhead and Emily.  One day, while doing foot work, she commented that she would love to get someone to train to work in her studio.  I commented I would love to, but I felt I was too old.  She assured me I was not and said I certainly had the passion. And as they say, the rest is history!!

Q: Can you tell us how you feel to be selected as the winner from so many incredible and heart-felt nominations?

Emily: It was such an honor to be nominated by my clients. Their stories were eye-opening. I can see the physical changes they undergo but I am not always aware of the other profound impacts our work together has on their lives. Knowing their full stories truly makes a difference for me.

And then, to see Connie’s story inspire so many other people to vote for it was amazing on a whole other level! Here we are in Florence, Alabama doing things that move people to take action. Wow!

My thanks go to Balanced Body for creating this forum in which these inspirational stories could be shared and for rewarding the client, the Pilates teacher, and the facility in which it all happened.

Connie: How awesome is that??  I love having to have been able to bring to light what an outstanding person Emily is.  And to continue training and not have to write a check is rewarding for sure.  But the most fun for me has been the essay, and being able to tell my 82-year old parents that I finished in the top 5 out of 2000 entries.  You would have thought the article was going to come out in the New York Times!  This year has been tough on them physically so it was nice to make their week. This whole experience, from the mastectomy to writing the essay, and winning has been very empowering and humbling at the same time.

If you had asked me why I love Pilates, I would tell you: I love it because no matter how much you have sitting on your shoulders, or how heavy you feel, or lack of athletic ability, after an hour session you just do not care about any of it! You walk in the door stressed, you walk out thinking “isn’t life good!”

Thank-you for the opportunity to express myself in this venue.