Fresh, fun, and free-spirited, Danielle Chevalier not only makes her own rules, she created her own game. Luckily, the Windsor-Essex community—and beyond—gets to play along with her.
Chevalier co-owns three successful businesses in addition to being a wife and mother to Rya (16), and three-year-old twin girls Drew and Henley. “I feel pretty awesome at age 37,” she says. Along with her husband Chris Mingay, she is the co-owner of Urban Surf Co., a water-sport rental company that offers waterside classes and events; and Adrenaline Extreme Fitness, a.k.a. AXFIT.com, a video training program for personal trainers worldwide. As if she wasn’t already busy enough, she has added a third company to her roster.
Sketch Art Workshop is a boho art space in Tecumseh that allows people to unwind with a cup of tea while unleashing their creativity through different types of art media. Chevalier credits her success to Mingay, saying, “Chris and I work well together; he’s a good teammate and partner. You have to know your strengths. I’m more of the artsy side, the ‘fluff.’”
Along with taking care of the company’s technical needs, like maintaining the websites and shooting Danielle’s training videos, Chris “does the paperwork, the bills, and the insurance. He loves it and he thrives. The businesses would fail, all of them, without Chris.”
But ‘fluff’ for Chevalier has been anything but comfortable. She has proven to be tough and resilient even during the most trying of times. A business owner long before she married Mingay, she was the brainchild behind AXFIT, which initially started as a ‘stroller fit’ class for new mothers. “I would go to the park [with daughter Rya] in the stroller and hope moms would come. I made posters and put them all over the stores in the Town of Belle River. I’d even put them on cars.”
Working as a chef after college and then a personal trainer for different gyms, in 2006, at the age of 23, Chevalier decided it was time to go out on her own. “I’ve never worked for anyone since,” she says. “I’m pretty proud of that.”
Chevalier was a single mom for seven years and says the beauty of having Rya was the fact that “she made me have to step up.” However, the two sometimes fell on hard times. Going through periods of having little money and living in various rental homes in different neighbourhoods, Chevalier says it was often a struggle. “Sometimes we lived hoping that someone would buy a 10-pack of boot camp classes so we could get groceries that night. We ate a lot of spaghetti. It was hard to pay the rent.”
A true testament to her go-getter attitude during hard times, Chevalier walked into the Windsor Spitfire hockey team head office, a stranger off the street, and told then–head coach Bob Boughner that he needed her to be the team’s core trainer after the team’s OHL championship win in 2009. “He went for it. He was probably thinking, who does this girl think she is? I don’t know what made me do it, but I did it,” she recalls.
She ended up training the team for two seasons. In the meantime, Chevalier was able to put more time into her AXFIT business once Rya was in school full time. “It just started to grow,” she says. “The moms started bringing their husbands to stroller fit and they started leaving the kids at home and it grew into what it is now.”
Soon, she rented out space at the WFCU (Windsor Family Credit Union) Centre and started filming herself doing workouts on YouTube. “I remember when I first got the email saying ‘you’re going to make revenue off your videos.’” Chevalier couldn’t believe the news.
But revenue wasn’t the only thing she gained from those videos. The business was thriving, and then, as she puts it with a laugh, “my husband just walked into my class one day.” The pair connected instantly, and they knew from the beginning they would be a team. Since then, Chevalier and Mingay have shifted the focus of the brand to create videos and training guides for fitness trainers worldwide, instead of offering weekly classes. The success has been phenomenal.
Regardless of their three profitable businesses, Chevalier likes to keep things simple. “I don’t want a big home—we could go live in a big home right now, but I like small. I like keeping my family close.” Her family, more than her love of entrepreneurship and business achievements, are what she values most. “I could drop all of this if I had to. None of this matters. None of this is really important. My kids’ health, and Chris, and us being safe and happy, that’s all that really matters.”
Having a California state of mind, Chevalier is a surfing- and skateboard-loving nature girl to the core. She talks about her philosophy of life—doing what you love—and advises people to “feel like a kid again” and “enjoy nature more.”
“Get off the line,” she says. “Stop doing what you think you need to do because you have to have the expensive car, house, and clothes. Trip over some logs. See the beauty in the leaves and in the trees. Don’t follow the trail. Go bushwhacking.”