Though she’s been an Upstate New York resident and trainer for almost two decades now, Teresa Burke still has fond memories of her years swimming and training in the warm Caribbean waters around her native Cuba. “We grew up in the ocean, right across from the Marina Hemingway in Havana, and I did a lot gymnastics and other sports when I was little,” says Burke, a Cuban national champion swimmer who won a bronze medal during the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis. “There are many athletes in my family, and I even went to school for synchronized swimming and had a trainer that really had an impact on me.”
All these years later, Burke still uses a lot of her early training, just in New York’s Capital Region at her own specialized fitness center, HealthPlex Fitness in Clifton Park. Burke co-owns the local training complex with her husband, Steve Burke (who founded the gym in 1989), and also serves as its fitness director, working with a nationally certified team of personal trainers and functional movement specialists. More than just a gym, HealthPlex offers an array of specialized fitness programs, from weight loss and rehabilitation to injury prevention and sports performance, all with an emphasis on healthy movement (not to mention some sweet on-site amenities such as massage therapists and a full-service protein shake bar). “The business is mostly personal training—taking clients through assessments of functional movements, evaluating their movement patterns, balances and imbalances, and correcting them,” says Burke.
When she first moved to the Capital Region in 2003, Burke says she was surprised that many professional trainers prioritized using the same repetitive exercise patterns and sets over training people based on their bodies’ needs and predispositions. “I said we have to fix this now,” recalls Burke, who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education and Kinesiology from the Manuel Fajardo University of Sciences of Physical Culture and Sport in Havana. “So we started educating the trainers and preparing them to work with each individual person and to correct their movement mechanics.”
Burke knows her stuff too—she comes from a long line of decorated athletes. “My family has always been competing in big tournaments,” she says. Burke’s grandparents were also deeply moored to the Caribbean Sea, which surrounds Cuba. Before the Cuban Revolution, they were sailing champions and were active in many marlin fishing competitions. Burke’s father also played as a second baseman for the Havana Sugar Kings—a short-lived but firecracker Cuban minor league baseball team that won the 1959 Junior World Series—until Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution swept over the entire island nation, also in 1959. Due to the deteriorating relationship between the United States and Cuba, Burke’s dad never realized his dream of one day making it to the major leagues. “My father was forced to stay within Cuba, and he trained to be a certified public accountant instead,” says Burke.
Burke, however, did get to live the dream of being a star athlete. From 1983-1992, she was a synchronized swimming national champion on the Cuban Swimming Federation (Cuba’s national swim team), competing in major contests across the globe (from South and Central America to Canada and even the then-Soviet Union), and winning a bronze medal in synchronized swimming at the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis (in addition to gold and silver medals in the Central American Games). Burke calls that moment at the Pan American Games a “personal highlight.” However, even while finding success as a top national athlete, Burke began to question her future in her home country. “I never thought about leaving Cuba when I was younger, belonging as I did to a family of champions,” she says. “But, as life went on, I realized that when I retired from my sport in Cuba, there’d be no future for me in that field.”
So, starting in 1985, Burke began taking classes at Manuel Fajardo University, which specializes in exercise science and sports medicine, with the plan of one day moving to the United States. After earning her degree in 1990, it took another dozen years before she was able to relocate to Florida in 2002. Not long after that big leap across the gulf, Burke met her future husband, Steve, who was on vacation in Florida at the time. The pair hit it off with their shared love of fitness, and, just a year later, married. Teresa relocated to Clifton Park to help Steve run his business, HealthPlex Fitness. “I pulled all my knowledge together from my years as an athlete to offer this training,” she says. “I feel like it’s much better being here in the US because I can use all my knowledge and skills in fitness training to help people, and that’s my passion.”
The couple must be doing something right: HealthPlex Fitness is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and Burke says that the fitness center’s marketing team is currently developing an appreciation campaign for its members, which will kick off in December. What can HealthPlex members expect? “We’re planning lots of awards, prizes, t-shirts and other fun stuff,” says Burke. Sign me up!