The ability to run, jump and hug are privileges Nicole Casson holds dear – as is the opportunity to share her passion for barre and pilates with the community of Armidale, NSW.

“It was a pretty fantastic childhood for me. From the minute I got home from school, to the time I went to bed, I spent every moment with my Dad on his bed. That’s where he was, so that’s where I was.”

Nicole Casson, owner / operator of Armidale’s first boutique barre and pilates studio njoy pilates, has an almost unearthly level of strength when it comes to talking about her Dad. She recalls her childhood in Mildura as one bursting with joy – her days filled with simple fun, like sitting on the arm of her Dad’s wheelchair and driving into town together, swinging past the local pool for a dip then, later in the evening, running along the river bank.

It’s fair to say Nicole was an active kid, she always loved the feeling of moving her body – but she never knew her Dad when he was able to move his.

“He was playing rugby and someone spear tackled him, he never walked again,” says Nicole.

“He was a quadraplegic long before I was even born. Despite that, he was the most cheerful, grateful person I’ve ever known. While I’m sure he struggled, I never saw any of that. He never held a grudge towards the player who injured him, never had any resentment towards them or the sport, he’d still go to the local pub and watch rugby whenever he could.”

While Nicole always knew her Dad’s life expectancy would be cut short due to his condition, she did think he’d see her finish school, get married, maybe even have kids. Sadly, he passed away when Nicole was just 13 due to complications from pneumonia. That’s when a whole new battle began.

“I don’t think you know how to grieve when you’re 13 years old,” says Nicole. “So I think it started as a coping mechanism – you can’t control life, you can’t control losing people, but you can control your weight. It was in my genes a bit too, as Mum had been battling bulimia for years, I think that was her default coping mechanism as well.”

Nicole battled anorexia from her mid-teens to early 20s. Restrictive eating teamed with excessive exercise (running upwards of 10km daily with frequent weights sessions in between), left her body depleted and her soul misaligned with the values her Dad taught her.

“I wasn’t honouring my body, I wasn’t honouring my Dad. So I slowly shifted to pilates, to try something new and try to shift my mindset,” she says. “Pilates offered me a different challenge from what I was used to, it was enjoyable and brought balance to my life.”

"I wasn't honouring my body, I wasn't honouring my Dad. So I slowly shifted to pilates, to try something new and try to shift my mindset."

The power of pilates

Six years on, after extensive training with Emma Seibold’s Barre Body, Nicole is living her dream career of operating her very own studio, which opened in Armidale earlier this year. Next year, she plans to extend into the space next door and offer reformer classes – the best machines in the business are currently winging their way to the New England from California.

In the meantime, the community she’s created since opening doors is supportive, fun-loving and thrives on movement. Something that, as one of her regular clients, I attribute not only to her remarkable strength, but also the deep, inner calm she carries with her. Nicole is a talented instructor, undeniably, and while the power of pilates strengthens the body and calms the mind, it’s her presence that fuels you and stills your soul. And that’s a gift.

When I asked her where that kind of calm, determined drive comes from, she attributes it entirely to her Dad.

“He’s where my strength comes from. His attitude taught me lots of wonderful values. I learnt to value the ability to move my body – I can run, jump and hug and those are privileges I came to hold sacred, and that’s something I want to share with everyone who joins my classes. I will strive to help you appreciate your body for what it can do, enjoy exercise and practice mindful movement as an act of self-love.”

Keen to join Nicole in her love of movement? Njoy pilates has a variety of memberships available, including a one-class pass so you can test the waters before diving in. Nicole also hosts online classes during periods of lockdown, so rest assured she’s got you, and your body, covered.


Instagram: @njoypilates

{words: Steph Wanlessphotography: Mike Terry}