Take one look at Ellen Comerford and you get a snapshot of what good health is all about: bright eyes, glowing skin, an effusive smile and an overall happy look.
And her biggest smiles come when she empowers others to live healthy and pain-free lives. Everyday she does just that at Core de Vie, a wellness center, day spa and fitness apparel boutique she founded at 40 Charles Street. Through exercise classes and personalized training, she and her staff of certified teachers strengthen the bodies and center the minds of their guests.
But Ellen wasn’t always in such tiptop shape. She worked hard and long to get where she is today; her positive attitude, coupled with her desire to learn and be fit, carried her through the tough times.
Thinking she was ready, Ellen married her high school sweetheart and gave birth to her daughter at age 17. Moving forward in her usual positive manner, she balanced childcare with day and night shifts at a high tech firm, eventually adding Northwestern University night classes to the mix. Her interest in fitness grew and soon she was getting up at 6 a.m. most days to teach aerobic classes at a gym.
At the same time, Ellen traveled extensively representing her company at trade shows. “At that time, I liked the number on my scales and the way I looked, but my body became the test kitchen,” she said. “I was exhausted, ate poorly, had no energy and suffered from plantar fasciitis from the daily routine of high-impact aerobics and standing in stilettoes on cement floors at convention centers.”
Although they had made a good team, she and her husband were not soul mates, Ellen said, so they ended the marriage after 13 years. She was 30 years old. Three years later, she married Mark Comerford, a scientist, engineer and businessman who encouraged her to take a break from her work, complete her still unfinished degree and pursue a career in fitness.
In 2000, the same year her daughter graduated from high school, Ellen graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in marketing and management. It had taken her a decade, but it didn’t signal the end of her studies.
To this day, she has earned more than 30 certifications ranging from entry-level fitness training to Pilates, Yamuna Body Work and Gyrotonic® to anatomy, nutrition, postural analysis, functional movement and teacher training. “ I work with the body,” she said, “and all these tools help me.”
In 2006, after a few years working at other studios, she founded Core de Vie in a tiny space on River Street. Two years later, she and her co-owner husband decided to expand into adjacent space on Charles Street so that they could expand the exercise space, add a boutique and open a spa in the lower level. He came on board to oversee operations.
But the expansion plans didn’t go smoothly. Zoning issues missed by the city in its original review caused a wrongly issued permit. Subsequent controversy over and challenges to the permitting issues culminated in new construction, a substantial opening delay, the laying off of newly hired staff and hurt feelings.
“It was an emotional time,” said Mark. “Could we [afford to] stick around that long? It took a one-year delay, substantial monetary loss, and a lot of patience, grit and fortitude on Ellen’s part. But the good thing was that the community rallied around us, saying this is the type of business we want on Charles Street.”
Vivacious and gregarious, Ellen has made Core de Vie feel at times like a community center – a place where you see your neighbors pulling weights on a Pulley Tower, relaxing with a massage, trying on the latest yoga pants or giving huge hugs to resident dogs Pasha and Chloe.
In order to make ends meet during the summer slowdown, the Comerfords often spend part of the week on their 36’ boat in Nantucket where she ministers to guests at her small studio there. It is also where the couple forages for brown kelp seaweed, a key ingredient in the line of natural skin care products they created in their kitchen at home.
Now Beacon Hill residents, Ellen said her days are easier but often still long. “But I love what I do,” she said. “I love it when people get pain relief when they change the way they move.” She sees them become happier, energetic and making good health decisions, just as she healed herself.
This is the second of a series on Beacon Hill’s retailers and restaurateurs by Suzanne Besser.