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Wheel Fit Co. won't put on the brakes this time

Despite the provincial government's decision to backpedal, Wheel Fit Co. will keep on spinning. "We feel morally obligated to do this for our community’s mental and physical wellbeing."

UPDATE: On April 12, Wheel Fit Co. announced on social media they will be ceasing operations until further notice. 

LAKELAND - Wheel Fit Co. will keep their wheels spinning despite the provincial government's decision to backpedal into phase one.

After a challenging year, Danika Chevalier said enough is enough, and regardless of the Government of Alberta's announcement, she has decided to carry on business as usual. 

"This is the third lockdown and the government is still not providing us with the data to support continuously shutting down the same industry, especially the fitness sector. We are equipped to track who is in our classes. We are able to keep tabs on who is coming in and out of our spaces, and they just haven’t provided the data that supports these ongoing closures."

The Wheel Fit Co. founder and Cold Lake location owner said, "Our own data supports that we have zero cases, zero transitions within our own facility. You can’t argue the facts."

This is among the reasons why Chevalier decided to keep her doors open, despite the Alberta government's announcement on April 5 to put the brakes on all group-based fitness following a spike in COVID-19 cases in the province.

"We feel morally obligated to do this for our community’s mental and physical wellbeing,” Chevalier added. “Since reopening a few weeks ago, I have been inundated with an outpouring of gratitude from the members of our community saying how badly they needed this and needed us, and how much better they feel since we’ve reopened and have been able to offer low intensity group classes.”

These low intensity classes were a scaled down version of their usual 45-minute sessions. 

Chevalier explained, “We cut our barre class time to 30-minutes to help promote the low intensity. As far as the spin program goes, it's lower and more consistent tracks where you’re able to dial it back, slow your legs, there’s a lot more seated work, and we focus on more weight training as well."

These changes were made in accommodation with phase two, that was until April 5 when Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced the province would be taking a step back into phase one, banning group fitness classes until further notice. 

"This is the end of the tunnel. It is our path to recovery. It is our path to freedom. Right now, we're in a transition period, fighting to keep control of the virus just a little while longer until it is vanquished by vaccines," Kenney said during a news conference last week where he gave an overview of the recent spike in variant cases. 

Based on their short-term projections, officials are estimating the province will reach 2,000 daily new cases of COVID-19 by the end of April. 

"Even at the height of the second wave, back in December, we topped out at just under 1,900 cases a day. Now we're well on our way to exceeding that," stated Kenney. 

"This is the third time they're trying these same measures and we keep having to come back here. At what point are we going to... stand up for what's right for humanity?" stated Chevalier. 

Wheel Fit Co. locations in Cold Lake and Bonnyville, continue to offer classes. On April 12 however, the St. Paul location announced on social media they would "once again be forced to close" their doors.

In addition to reducing their class sizes, hanging plastic curtains between each bike, and remodelling their programs, Wheel Fit Co. is following all other COVID-19 measures such as social distancing, sanitizing upon entry, and self-screening. 

"We are doing everything in our power to provide, and to continue to provide, a safe space for our community. Now it's just time for people to take it into their own hands," Chevalier said. 

Prior to the first lockdown in March of 2020, Chevalier waited until "the very last possible end" because of her strong belief in the link between mental health and physical fitness. 

"We are receiving an outpouring of messages from people thanking us for what we provide and the difference we are making in their day-to-day lives."

When asked about the response she received from the community after announcing on their social media their doors would remain open, Chevalier said it has been nothing but positive. 

"The support is definitely there. I think now more than ever, our members want to be there to support us because they recognize how much we are being there for them and how hard we are fighting to continue to be there for them."

Reinforcement isn't just pouring in from their Wheel Fit Co. community.

"I have had other big business owners reach out personally and say 'congratulations for your courage, we stand behind you and we support you,'" Chevalier noted. "I have had a member of city council reach out with that same message."

City of Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland said while council remains neutral on the issue, he can sympathize with local businesses. 

"We're now going into our 13th month and businesses are struggling and it comes to a point where we're going to lose business in our community with these shut downs," he expressed. "It doesn't surprise me. There's a lot of frustrated business owners right now in Cold Lake."

According to Chevalier, the cost of the pandemic has been more than just the $80,000 in debt her business has incurred. 

"It has been extremely stressful. It's just like not being able to show up and do your job... It's morally demeaning and demoralizing."

She added, "It has been very challenging to not feel purposeful."

Chevalier said they will continue to fight for their studio and fitness community, and she is hoping others will do the same. 

"I feel there is power in numbers and if you don't stand for something you'll fall for everything."

While she shows some concern over possible consequences of her actions, Chevalier is arming herself with knowledge and support from her fellow business owners and fitness advocates. 

"It is a concern, but at this point I'm really focusing my attention on educating myself about the constitution and our rights as Canadians and where we stand on that end," she stated. "I am part of a few groups across the province and nationally that are very supportive and knowledgeable in these matters, so I feel very supported by the advocates that are out there who are hustling for us to ensure if we are facing fines or legal implications that we are supported throughout that."

Meagan MacEachern, Bonnyville Nouvelle

For more on the number of COVID-19 cases across the Lakeland, click here