AURORA, IL — Longtime friends and business partners Paul Bullard and Jeff Cantieri moved one step from realizing their dream in March when they received permits to begin building D1 Training Fox Valley in Aurora.
Unfortunately, their dream was immediately put on hold — the permits were issued the same day the city of Aurora first shut down due to the coronavirus.
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Bullard, an attorney for 20 years, said he and Cantieri “took a step back to evaluate” their plans after normal life and business were upended by the pandemic.
But they “decided it still made sense” and that they could still fulfill their main reason for wanting to open D1 Training in Aurora: to help people improve their lives through fitness.
Bullard and Cantieri purchased a D1 Training franchise in January 2019 and spent the next 10 months searching for the right location before finding it at 403 S. Illinois Route 59 in the Aurora Marketplace shopping mall.
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Construction on the 12,000-square-foot fitness center was set to begin in March, but the coronavirus pandemic forced Bullard and Cantieri to push those plans back several months. Crews eventually started work on the facility in late May, and D1 Training Fox Valley opened its doors to customers for the first time last week.
“It was exhilarating,” Bullard said of finally opening for business. “It was a long time coming.”
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D1 Training was founded in 2001 by former NFL pro Will Bartholomew. The company started franchising in 2016, and it now has more than two dozen locations, including its newest in Aurora.
D1 offers “very high-quality” fitness training for adults and youth athletes, with the facility’s workouts based on strength and conditioning programs developed by coaches at Division I universities, Bullard said.
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The fitness center offers 54-minute group workouts, with each class led by a certified trainer, Bullard said.
“The result is that there’s no guesswork when you come into our facility,” Bullard said.
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Adults can sign up for a full-body functional workout program or one that focuses on strength training. D1 is also a national leader in providing high-quality fitness programming for young athletes, Bullard said.
Bullard, who coached youth sports for his own children, said he was drawn to open a D1 Training facility after seeing how it can “instill great fitness habits” in young children, something that many big box gyms can’t offer.
D1’s youth programming could also provide “a fantastic outlet” for thousands of student-athletes in the Aurora area whose seasons were cancelled or delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bullard said.
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Though D1 Fox Valley can allow up to 100 people into the facility at a time under coronavirus capacity restrictions, classes are being limited to 18 people.
With 12,000 feet of space, small classes and only 18 exercise machines, “maintaining social distancing isn’t a problem for us,” Bullard said.
“The D1 model for fitness was built for social distancing before social distancing was even a thing,” Bullard said.
Bullard said D1 Training Fox Valley “strongly encourages” people to wear masks while exercising in the facility, but it does not mandate it. Doctors who were consulted while developing D1’s mask policy voiced concerns that some could experience difficulty breathing if required to wear one, Bullard said.
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Everyone must have their temperature checked before entering the facility, and all equipment is cleaned hourly and at the end of each day, Bullard said.
Despite many being uncertain about returning to gyms and fitness centers amid the pandemic, the response from the Aurora community has been nothing but positive during D1 Training Fox Valley’s first week in business, Ballard said.
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He recalled how one father thanked him for being able to watch his son run around on the turf field.
“‘We’ve needed something like this in this area for a long time,’” the man said, according to Bullard.
“That in and of itself is all the reward I need,” Bullard said.
This article originally appeared on the Aurora Patch