When you meet Christine Gioia Nel, you immediately feel like she cares intimately about you. Not in a fake or fleeting way, but in a way that feels like you've just encountered someone special.
That's likely what Dominique felt when they first met in high school in South Africa. And if you want to know why they lovingly call each other "Burn" you'll have to take it up with Dom.
Talkative, engaging, fair-haired and light-eyed, at first glance you might not think of Christine as a typical punk rocker. But the more you hear her story or catch glimpses of her many tattoos beneath her clothing, you realize there is more to her than meets the eye.
In fact, you might argue her life is a bit like a punk song itself, on the surface seemingly erratic but with a consistent thread of passion, energy and dedication connecting everything together. What we love most about her story is her willingness to dive into to so many different things. It's fearless and vulnerable in a way punk music is too.
Read on for her full story but before you do, try to guess where she's landed based on this badass photo.
Growing up in Pretoria, South Africa and attending an incredibly conservative high school, Christine quickly found an outlet in the punk rock scene, going to the skate park every weekend with her friends and getting lost in the lyrics of her favorite music.
"My favorite punk band is called Bad Religion. I remember as a teenager how the lyrics of their album "Stranger than Fiction" just changed my life. For the first time I felt like this person was finally articulating the feelings I had about society and all that kind of stuff and I thought “Oh my gosh, other people out there feel the same way I do.”
Immersed in the fringes with a dedication to punk music, but at the same time an overachiever in sports and academics, Christine says she "fit in nowhere but everywhere at the same time." A common feeling for most teenagers to be sure, but something that seemed to drive her forward in the rest of her life.
After studying marketing and business communications at the University of Pretoria ("I had no idea what I wanted to study... I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life until about two years ago," she admits) while volunteering on the side as a park ranger, she moved to London to complete a Masters in Sustainable Development as a way to pursue her dream of working in animal conservation.
The world of sustainability at the time was incredibly competitive and it was hard to find work, so Christine leaned on her original degree to land a job in advertising. She worked at agencies for four years both in London and Amsterdam (where she reconnected with her now husband!).
But she realized that the work wasn't good for her soul. "Eventually I just got really sick of the corporate culture and the patriarchal bullshit and I just didn’t care about all that. I just couldn’t do it anymore."
She moved back to Cape Town and worked as a Senior Economic Development Analyst for a renewable energy company, enforcing government legislation to ensure foreign companies were playing fair.
In the build up to a desperately necessary ankle surgery, Christine discovered pilates. "I thought it was going to be easy and stretchy but I went to this woman’s house for a pilates training and I was the only one there that wasn’t a physio. I hadn’t even heard of any of the things that these people were just rolling off their tongues. And it just caught me. I knew I had to learn everything I could about the body and how it was all connected."
And the more she learned the more she realized that she couldn't physically sit at a desk all day. "I knew it was the worst thing I could do for my body. The body is literally built to move," she says. So she embarked on her next and latest adventure: going back to school for a physical therapy degree in Dublin.
She also works as a full-time pilates reformer instructor and gets enormous satisfaction out of helping other people understand and improve their bodies and movement.
As someone with a seriously nomadic career path, she has to wonder if pilates is "it" or will there be something else? "Anything could happen. But the human body is the most complex thing that I’ve ever come across in my life. It’s just so mystifying and amazing and I think it’ll consume me for a very long time."
Good luck, Christine, keep the punk rock spirit rolling. Your power vibes are what the world needs. We love you!