BY JACK SHORT – She’s Chrissy to most, but only if you knew her after she moved here. Or before she became a professional. It’s a little confusing. She had switched to Christine in order to be taken more seriously, but Boca Grande apparently has a surfeit of Christine’s (or Christina’s), so it was back to Chrissy. Maybe it wasn’t that complicated.
But whether she goes by something more serious or more fun, her passion for massage, health, and taking care of people is most serious.
Christine Stites is a New Jersey native who found her way to Florida by the same avenue most do – an extreme antipathy to cold weather and winters, and especially shoveling snow. Seriously, how many people had their epiphanies about moving to Florida while they were shoveling snow? We think it’s probably all of them, more or less.
But, if her reason wasn’t unique, it was a great one, and effective. It’s unlikely she’s shoveled much snow since moving to Rotonda.
Here, life is about working at The Gasparilla Inn & Club Spa as the lead massage therapist and personal trainer.
When she’s off-duty, she spends time with Gabby (a calico cat), rides her bike and goes to shows to see some of her favorite artists, like Robert Plant.
Christine grew up in Stratford, N.J. in Camden County, a town that boasts an area of one-and-a-half acres.
“It was a small town,” she observed. “My entire family went to the same high school and I still have family at that high school.”
But it was just eight miles across the river to Philadelphia, and so she had Philly sports to keep life interesting.
Christine played sports, too. She is a fan of just about every sport (though she doesn’t watch basketball), but she played baseball and volleyball. It’s not surprising, then, that she initially wanted her massage therapy career to be sports related, working for teams and players.
Now, almost two decades later, she has over 25 certifications and an AS in dietary technology, and she’s a personal trainer.
She did work with a few Flyers and Eagles, but shrugged the experience off.
“It was fun,” she said. “They’re basically your average guys. I’m pretty low key, so being star struck would take a lot for me.”
It would take someone like Robert Plant to make her star struck, she admitted.
She began work early on as part of a high school program, still in New Jersey, finishing classes at noon everyday and heading to a job from there. At 15, she worked in a bakery. At 16, she clerked for an insurance company. And at 17, she had a job doing research for collection and fraud cases at a JC Penney regional credit office.
From there she moved to Florida at age 18, but only for a little while, working for Alamo. She moved back to New Jersey to work in insurance claims, then in mortgages. She briefly settle in Virginia for two years before returning to New Jersey because, as she said, she wanted to be home.
In the late 90s she bought a pizza shop and settled in.
But a spa day with some friends in February of 2000 would change her life.
“I got a massage,” she said. “and I was amazed … I couldn’t believe how good I felt. … Two weeks later I was in school.”
Once she was certified, Christine said, she borrowed $300 to rent a space in the back room of a women’s fitness center. That was in 2001. The previous massage therapist had left without honoring coupons and offers she’d distributed, and Christine stepped in and took those clients on, as well as the obligations and coupons.
After a year at that location, she moved to another small office space for a year, before moving to an arthritis center in Stratford.
“I knew we could build a medical reputation in the hospital district,” she said. “I networked with chiropractors, physical therapists, pain management doctors, and rheumatologists.”
She also joined the Stratford business association, and in 2006 her office was recognized as one of best massage therapy studios in South Jersey.
And that brings us to 2010, sometime in April. Let me set the scene for you: it’s cold, because it’s only April and it’s New Jersey, and there is an excessive amount of snow on the ground – or at least enough to keep Christine from opening her office before she shovels it from her door.
That was the moment. Someone snapped a photo of it apparently.
“I had wanted to go back to Florida since I’d left 25 years earlier,” she said, “so I decided to put a plan into action.”
She closed her office and worked out of her home for the next three years. After that, on the way to Marathon Key, she settled here instead.
Christine said Florida has the atmosphere she needs, and that she’d never felt like she belonged in New Jersey.
“I always felt like I should have been born around palm trees and water,” she explained.
She wagered on getting a job at The Gasparilla Inn, where she’d made a contact, but because nothing official had been offered, there was a considerable risk involved.
But Christine doesn’t seem like someone who shies away from risk or change, which is fortunate.
She lives in a beautiful setting, where she can hop on her hybrid bike and be on the beach in 20 minutes. She can travel to nearby cities for shows like Weezer, Imagine Dragons, and Eric Clapton.
In the next few years, she hopes to be a spa director, focusing more on the operations side of the business. After all, as she put it, it would be nice to be able to open her jelly jars when she’s 80.
But, if she moves into the operational side of the business or not, she’ll have her experiences forever. The most memorable experience that came to mind?
She was giving massages in one of the suites at a Roger Waters concert and was commissioned to give a massage during the entire second side of “Dark Side of the Moon.”
“I was playing the drums on his back,” she recalled. “It was pretty cool.”