What Strength Looks Like

After taking arms against a sea of troubles, CORE owner Denise Chakoian is having a triumphant year


When Denise Chakoian gives you a tour of CORE Fitness Studio in Wayland Square, she’s beaming. She loves to show off the high-tech “cycling theater.” She excitedly describes the “megaformers,” futuristic machines for specialized pilates classes. Everything you see in CORE is a dream come true – and there are so many ways it almost didn’t exist.

In February of 2018, Denise was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. “It was a bit of a shock,” she recalls. “There was no time to wait. I had to dive right into the treatment. And for the first month, I was doing a lot of thinking.”

Denise grew up in a strict Catholic family in North Providence. She danced competitively until she was 19, when she shifted to aerobics and bodybuilding. She worked for a counseling center, a law office, and then for the Boston branch of JP Morgan for 14 years. Through it all, she worked part-time as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer.

When she opened CORE, about 13 years ago, Denise had a business partner – who abruptly dropped out. Alone, Denise forged ahead. Her one-room, second-floor studio gradually expanded. She hired staff. After nine years, a new landlord coaxed her out of the building, and Denise opened a new location. The business grew.

Earlier this year, just as Denise started chemo, she was simultaneously rebranding the company; she hired a team to renovate her new space on Waterman Street into a polished-looking “boutique” studio. Throughout her treatment, she kept running regularly and teaching classes, all the while overseeing construction.

“I started to elevate the way my place felt and was run,” says Denise. “I thought, I’m either going to step away and leave fitness completely, or I’m going to do exactly what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Today, Denise’s cancer is in remission. Her studio has been open since the summer, and the environment is spotless and state-of-the-art. She lives in the East Side, and she enjoys running into clients in local restaurants. She credits her regulars with motivating her through the most painful times, and she loves to help them feel welcome.

“We have a very diverse clientele,” she says. “We’re not snobby. We’re normal people. I go out to eat. I will never turn down a pizza, ever. I love chocolate. Life is too short. You can go to the extreme. But we promote being fit, and healthy – and strong.”