by Erica Herbst
PeopleFund has found an outstanding example of the dedication it takes to build a small business from the ground up in Lee Vallely and Elisabeth Kristof. Beginning 2007 in her small loft in downtown Austin, Lee taught all classes herself to small groups that could fit through her door. When RedBird Pilates received a loan from PeopleFund, she showed her dedication to community by opening her first studio in a low income census tract in East Austin. Elisabeth Kristof, who was a journalism graduate student at the time, began taking Lee’s classes in 2007 and had an epiphany. “I knew it was special and something I hadn’t experienced in any other form of class. I knew I wanted to be part of it,” Elisabeth said. Elisabeth began teaching at RedBird in 2008. Elisabeth and Lee expanded rapidly, creating jobs and improving lives. Elisabeth became a partner in 2014 and they now have a staff of six and one admin manager. They also provide training to anyone interested in becoming a Pilates instructor themselves. “I wanted to help others learn to move with precision, integrity and joy. This was a labor of love for me.” Lee said.
RedBird is a destination fitness facility in the heart of Austin. The studio offers a wide range of Pilates mat and apparatus classes, Primal 7® suspension training, Body Engineering workouts, personal training and workplace wellness programs—all created and supervised by BASI-certified professionals. With help from PeopleFund, Lee and Elisabeth have dramatically improved their personal and business financing, creating six jobs and increasing their credit score, all while relocating the business from Lee’s home to a brick and mortar. They also established a charitable component to RedBird’s fitness programming, including participation in community charity events and awareness walks and offering scholarships and programs to teach young girls a love of fitness and healthy habits. These outreach programs bring Lee and Elisabeth’s vision full circle.
Lee has dedicated her life to movement and wellness. In 2001, she founded her Strength Through Length programs, which are a fusion of best practices in Dance, Pilates and Yoga. She is a BASI-certified Pilates instructor and has over 20 years’ experience in the health and wellness industry. Lee has been awarded Best Corporate Program for World Gym for five consecutive years and is accredited by the American Council on Exercise and certified as a National Fitness Specialist.
With a five year career as a professional ballet and modern dancer, Lee transformed her passion for unlocking the body’s potential into a career built on helping others reach their own fitness goals. Lee began her career in the fitness industry as Senior Fitness Director with the YMCA of Austin. She then joined the World Gym Club chain and built their corporate sales and wellness division for 8 years and invested as a partner before the becoming the National Director of Corporate Sales for Gold’s Gym International. Lee then turned her business skills and fitness expertise into RedBird Pilates and Fitness.
Elisabeth is a Body Arts and Science International certified Pilates instructor and AFAA-certified personal trainer. She has worked as fitness trainer and instructor since 2005. Elisabeth combines her journalism skills and fitness background to develop the RedBird website and social media initiatives. She creates content that expands client understanding of the RedBird philosophy and the Pilates practice.
Lee and Elisabeth believe in not only strengthening practitioners but educating them about the purpose of each movement, and they feel this helps practitioners become “stronger, more self-aware movers and thinkers, throughout all aspects of their lives.” Fostering community growth is a core value of RedBird Pilates. Lee and Elisabeth strive to create a community that supports fitness, healthy living and wellness at every RedBird location with the goal of lasting change and access to their resources for everyone. PeopleFund has seen Lee and Elisabeth’s commitment to these values as they work to position RedBird Pilates as a hub for wellness in their community.