Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders.”
-Mary Parker Follet, Author and Sociologist.
Mari Winsor inspired millions of people to move. Mari began her career as a dancer, and was featured in music videos such as Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” (1988) and in films such as Moonwalker (1988), Salsa (1988) Roadhouse (1989), and The Flash (1990). At the age of 40, she transitioned into studying and teaching Pilates – a mind and body exercise discipline invented by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s- which was used to increase strength and flexibility. After working as an instructor, she decided to move forward with her new career focus, and opened her first studio, Winsor Pilates, in West Hollywood in 1990.
Mari eventually became known as the “Queen of Pilates,” due to her extraordinary efforts to bring the exercise modality into the mainstream. In 2003, Winsor released her first award-winning infomercial with Guthy-Renker, leading to record-breaking success of the Winsor Pilates Workout Series. In total, she created 30 videos, and over 50 million copies have been sold to this day. Winsor also co-authored three books and created a series of Pilates DVDs and kits.
After Mari received the diagnosis of ALS in 2013, her passion for helping others continued, with a newfound focus on those with neurological diseases. Mari and her many friends became a vital part of the Golden West Chapter. Team Winsor Pilates was formed in 2014, and have participated in the Greater Los Angeles County Walk to Defeat ALS ever since. Mari and members of Team Winsor Pilates led the crowd in a pre-walk warm up, doing stretches and exercises to get participants ready to move.
One of those teammates, Kristi Cooper, a dear friend and colleague of Mari’s, is the co-founder of Pilates Anytime and Yoga Anytime, both subscription based sites that bring fitness into the homes of anyone with an internet connection. Kristi has been a passionate Pilates instructor since she was 15 years old, and also owned her own Pilates studio in Santa Barbara. The two trailblazers had connected with one another numerous times through industry conferences, and eventually shared clients between their two studios. Their business connection grew into an everlasting friendship.
“As a friend of someone who is living with ALS, your heart breaks everyday,” said Kristi Cooper. “It was very hard on all of her friends and the people around her, yet all we had to do was show up to make Mari happy.”
Just before Mari’s ALS diagnosis was confirmed, she had agreed to record fitness videos for Kristi. Mari remained committed under one condition, that they include a part to raise awareness about neurological diseases. “It’s as horrible of a disease as you can imagine,” said Kristi. “But, when you face it in support of a loved one, the depths of friendship and love are limitless and that has its rewards for all involved.”
In addition to Kristi’s continuous efforts with Team Winsor Pilates, she had an idea for raising even more ALS awareness and support. Even though she had never worked in film before, Kristi decided to create a documentary focusing on Mari’s inspirational story. She wanted to share the journey of how Mari became a fitness legend, who dedicated her entire life to movement, and the irony that ALS had robbed her of doing those things for herself.
Kristi worked alongside her co-director and producer, Jeff Mizushima, in creating the documentary. Jeff created three feature-length films prior to working with the Pilates Legacy Project, and continued his dedicated work on the project even after he had moved on to making new films. Mari’s husband, Elliot Nachbar, held a career in movie production and connected Kristi with more people than she could have ever imagined. In addition, Alison Graham, Team Captain of Team Winsor Pilates and Mari’s friend and publicist of nearly 20 years, also helped with the project.
“We didn’t know how remarkable her story was,” Kristi commented. “Once everyone stepped in, people just wanted to help so desperately.”
After many years of faithful and loving effort, the film was completed. Powerhouse: The Mari Winsor Story features many of the milestones of Mari’s life and work, along with her family, friends, and colleagues in the Pilates community. The film shows how Mari took many difficult circumstances and experiences throughout her life and used them to inspire others to keep moving forward.
Kristi decided to dedicate a significant portion of the film to the time period in Mari’s life when she was living with ALS. It exemplifies how an ALS diagnosis can affect everyone around the person living with the disease. Mari’s passionate dedication to her teaching, even when facing significant physical challenges, is evident. The documentary starts and finishes with moving footage from Mari’s final days, where several Zoom sessions were arranged by her niece, Mari “Missy” Levitan, for Winsor’s closest friends and family, just before Mari’s death in 2020. Kristi was determined to launch it on March 11, 2022, on what would have been Mari’s 72nd birthday.
“Mari Winsor is not ALS. Mari Winsor is not Pilates. Mari Winsor is Mari Winsor,” Kristi strongly added.”I learned that, even in the tragedy of this disease, love, joy, presence and laughter still prevail. I miss her very much.”
The Golden West Chapter is forever grateful for Mari’s passionate efforts to advance the search for effective treatments and cures for ALS, and for Kristi’s leadership in sharing Mari’s story with the world. Powerhouse: The Mari Winsor Story can be watched for free on the Pilates Anytime website. Donations in honor of Mari Winsor can be made to her Walk to Defeat ALS team, at TeamWinsorPilates.org.