Grad puts ultramarathon lessons to work in completing diploma

Conway Belcourt’s love of running propelled him toward Personal Fitness Trainer program

Conway Belcourt hiking in the mountainsGrowing up in the small Métis community of Kelly Lake, B.C., Conway Belcourt was encouraged to play outside as much as possible. Get out and explore nature, his mother told him and his siblings.

This early connection to physical activity was the beginning of Belcourt’s love affair with running. In his early teens – with guidance and training from his school principal, a former Olympian, and his cross country coach, an accomplished triathlete – Belcourt established what he calls a strong “running mentality.”

When running, especially long distances in varying terrains, people can face physical, mental and emotional fatigue, says Belcourt. If they don’t manage their progress well, they won’t cross the finish line.

“You concentrate on what’s immediately in front of you and forget about the rest.”

“A runner’s mentality addresses a challenge one kilometre at a time. You concentrate on what’s immediately in front of you and forget about the rest until you’ve made it through the kilometre. You take a moment to acknowledge the accomplishment, then you concentrate on getting through the next kilometre, repeating this pattern until you reach the finish line.”

And, like Belcourt did in enrolling in NAIT’s Personal Fitness Trainer program as a mature student at 48 years old, you apply that mentality to all aspects of your life.

“Running became my salvation through all the difficult times in my life,” he says. “I found that it also taught me that I can take on whatever challenges life throws at me.”

Trust in the universe

A believer that the universe puts in front of you the thing you need most at that time, Belcourt encountered the person who would help guide him towards NAIT.

Conway Belcourt holds a medalHe was in his early 40s and living in Grande Prairie. After graduating highschool in 1989, Belcourt moved there to start a family and begin what became a 27-year career with Champion Feeds. He raised three kids while continuing to pursue his goals in running.

While training for a marathon, he kept passing a woman training on the same 16-kilometre loop along the city’s trails. A kind smile and occasional wave turned into conversation.

Soon, Belcourt, who was a single father at the time, and Dawn Wilson started training together, later becoming life partners.

Wilson and Belcourt spent countless hours training and participating in marathons and ultramarathons, ranging 50 to 100 kilometres. She encouraged him to start helping others with their training and taking a leadership role in the running club he was involved with. It was a natural fit for Belcourt. He had quickly moved into a supervisor role with Champion Feeds, and always showed an interest in helping others achieve their best.

“Running is spiritual to me.”

When Wilson decided to move to Edmonton to go to school for acupuncture, Belcourt started to reevaluate his life. His kids were grown, he had a new partner, and he had found a new love of sharing his passion for physical activity with others. He was happy with his career at Champion, but felt that after 27 years it was time to explore a new path for himself.

“Running is spiritual to me,” says Belcourt. “Physical activity can make you feel alive and wake up your spirit. I really enjoy sharing this with people. So I thought to myself, ‘Could I make a life out of this?’”

He learned about NAIT’s Personal Fitness Trainer program from people in his running club and the trainers at the gym he attended. He knew the universe once again put the thing in front of him that he needed most.

It would be a challenge. He hadn’t been in school since 1989. Technology had changed. He suspected that he’d be older than his classmates, maybe even his instructors. But he felt ready for the change and what it would involve.

“When I think about it, my whole life has been preparing me for my NAIT experience.”

“I had found my people”

Conway Belcourt after a competitionThe learning curve was steep to start. The theory was just one challenge. There were also PowerPoint presentations to build, public speaking and building client profiles – skills Belcourt had not previously developed. That’s where the runner’s mentality came in.

“I knew I needed to take school one project at a time,” says Belcourt. “Just work hard, stay focused and get through this one assignment, and deal with the rest as they come, one at a time.”

Soon enough, he overcame the technical challenges, discomfort with public speaking and the age difference never proved an issue. “I fit in immediately. We all had so much in common and were a really supportive group. I had found my people.”

“Finishing NAIT is crossing the finish line of a 100-kilometre ultramarathon.”

After graduation, Belcourt and Wilson plan to return to B.C. They both love the mountains and want to continue to train for and participate in ultramarathons that often take place in them. He’s become so comfortable with technology that he’s come to enjoy training people virtually, in the comfort of their own homes. He plans to continue to build a business by incorporating in-person training and coaching once it's safe to do so.

Like a serious race, getting to this point hasn’t been easy, but it’s been rewarding. For once, he’s content to look back on where he’s come from instead of always ahead.

“Finishing NAIT is crossing the finish line of a 100-kilometre ultramarathon,” says Belcourt. “I’m proud of everything I’ve overcome and accomplished over the past two years, doing it all one ‘kilometre’ at a time.”

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