Claudine Labelle was destined to be an elite-level cyclist before she founded Fillactive and began exploring social entrepreneurship. Today, the non-profit encourages tens of thousands of teens in Quebec and across Canada to pursue physical activities and adopt healthier lifestyles.
Claudine Labelle dreamed of going to the Olympics and competing as a cyclist. But at the age of 22, while training in the Toronto area, she was hit by a car and ended up in the hospital. Doctors confirmed she had suffered a serious head injury, which ended her sports career. “I had put everything into that goal and suddenly, the next day, I found myself with nothing to look forward to. It was really hard,” she recalls more than a decade later.
The defining moment
During her two-year recovery period, Labelle recalled an experience she had while working as a trainer at a swim club in a disadvantaged neighbourhood. Over the course of a year she had helped 7- to 13-year-olds achieve their personal sports objectives, and during this time she was privileged to observe their metamorphosis at close range. Seized with the desire to repeat this rewarding experience on a larger scale, she founded FitSpirit in 2007, which later became Fillactive.
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The idea was simple: she would visit secondary schools to give talks about the importance of physical activity to teen girls between the age of 12 and 17, the most sedentary segment of the Canadian public. The response she received from the 15 schools she visited on her first speaking tour was overwhelmingly positive. “Just imagine the sparkling eyes of 5,000 girls,” she recalls. The following year, in 2008, 80 schools were added to a waiting list for her talk. All in all, she was able to reach 18,000 girls in order to sensitize them to the benefits of exercise. At the same time, Fillactive received its first financing in the amount of $10,000.
Starting in 2009, Fillactive launched the FitClub challenge, an eight- to 10-week supervised running program in which participants trained for a final five- or 10-kilometre race. But there would be no ranking or timekeeping: Instead, emphasis was placed on the pleasure of surpassing one’s own abilities. “In order to respond to a concern amongst the secondary school teachers, who after hearing our talk felt they were helpless without any recourse to a program or training, we launched FitClub,” explains Labelle, who sees the initiative as a kind of legacy to those communities influenced by her speaking tour.
With successive editions of the FitClub challenge, Fillactive’s expertise grew at every step. The young entrepreneur gained an understanding of how to manage a board of directors, a reality faced by every non-profit organization (NPO). She polished up her school presentations, being sure to include the most recent scientific findings. Her beginner’s mentality soon gave way to a more daring pragmatism, an encouraging sign in the view of her backers, who no longer hesitated to consent to Labelle’s requests.
Today, Fillactive is a force to be reckoned with. The previous groups of 20 to 30 runners per school now count as many as 70 to 300 members. Because of this success, Labelle’s influence reaches up to the highest decision-makers. In fact, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau recently became Fillactive’s official spokesperson.
« Governments and managing bodies now must change what they offer to accommodate everyone. We are changing the norm by initiating lasting changes in communities»
Having only attained its tenth year of existence, Fillactive is still a young foundation. In the eyes of its founder, the organization still has many promising, busy years ahead. “In the next three years, our growth will be less dynamic than before as we consolidate our achievements. Nevertheless, we expect to enjoy further growth across Canada at a steady pace,” explains Labelle. In other words, the cyclist-turned-social-entrepreneur is about to take it to the next level.
Fillactive in Numbers
- 200: Number of schools in which Fillactive offered more than 700 workshops in 2016
- 120,000: Number of teen girls reached in 2016
- 12,500: Number of female participants registered in FitClub in 2016
- $2.2 million: Fillactive’s operating budget in 2016
- 26: Number of employees of the non-profit
- 30%: Expected growth rate for the next three years
- 1,200: Number of volunteers in schools and at related businesses
Want to learn more?
Visit the Fillactive website