In February 2020, Trevor Williams was in Malibu, Calif. with his clients on a cycling vacation. What was supposed to be a carefree trip quickly turned into one of concern, as news spread that COVID-19 was becoming a global threat.
Although Canada had not yet restricted travel, Williams recalls one of his clients preparing for a trip to Japan. There had been a lot of chatter about whether the fear of COVID-19 was out of safety or stigma, as Williams’ client continued to weigh whether or not he should proceed with his plans. The thought of being unable to travel because of the virus made Williams nervous.
“I had this ominous feeling that this was going to be real very soon,” he says.
As a result, Williams and his coworkers decided to close his cycling studio, The Doctrine, on March 15. Williams hoped he was being over-cautious, but Calgary mandated that all fitness facilities cease operations just three days later.
“I even thought, well … this will be a month or so. And it wasn’t. I guess that’s when it was really sinking in.”
COVID-19 left Williams unsure of what would happen to his cycling business, which the former engineer started after he found a passion for cycling in university through a triathlon club. Now, that business is under threat due to the pandemic, causing Williams to make changes to keep it running, including virtual classes during the current shut-down.
In contrast to his love for cycling, Williams initially had difficulty finding a passion for education. He didn’t enjoy the high school experience, but after a year abroad in Australia, it became clear that education was more important than he had originally realized.
“I worked on a farm [in Australia], and during that time, I realized that it might be a good idea to get an education instead of just working manual labor my whole life,” says Williams.
“So, I came home and upgraded. And [my dad] suggested engineering just because of my traits and so I just applied.”
Williams applied to the University of Victoria’s engineering program. Although it wasn’t easy, Williams ended up enjoying his degree more than he thought he would and he went on to attain a PhD in biomedical imaging.
“I started with this professor doing an accelerated master’s degree and, in her lab, I was really intrigued by one of the projects by a PhD student at the time. It was a proof of concept for breast cancer detection,” says Williams.
“When she graduated, I followed her to [the University of Calgary], and I thought there was a project that would get my interest for the next five years.”
With a good resume and a strong work ethic, Williams had what it took to be successful in engineering. But, something else had caught his interest at university — a triathlon club that would end up being the beginning of Williams’ career.
Williams “grew up on a bicycle,” learning how to ride and handle one from a young age, but he never knew that cycling was an actual sport until he became a part of the triathlon club.
Joining in order to become more active outside, Williams quickly came to realize that he enjoyed cycling the most out of the three events because it included racing and mountain biking. He learned how to properly pace and push himself, find teamwork through competition and rediscover just how enjoyable cycling could be.
“I was better at it than the other two. Swimming I just found really frustrating, and running I’ve done all my life,” says Williams.
“I’d never even thought about race cycling and it was just super exciting. It was like a whole new playing field for me.”
Williams’ passion for cycling grew. In part, that passion came from his fascination with the human body and the changes it is capable of, especially when it came to training.
“I’ve always been intrigued by how the mind works, and how the body works.”.
With his focus on cycling, and his studies becoming more applicable to the sport, Williams came up with the idea to run a cycling company in order to help improve, learn about and shape the body into a stronger and healthier version of itself.
Williams worked as an engineer for a few years while making plans to start up that company. In 2010, he started The Doctrine in the Beltline neighbourhood.
His business invites clients to sign up for a season to work out together, make friends and develop their skills. It is unlike spin classes because it replicates the experience of road cycling in an indoor environment by setting conditions and goals, creating different routines and utilizing a certified coach who pushes their client’s boundaries.
Williams makes sure his clients work hard with the aid of CompuTrainers — a software to track individual stats — and in-person coaching. In doing so, he conditions them through different types of classes that focus on specific goals, such as speed, endurance and efficiency.
“I love being around people and watching them,” says Williams. “[My clients] have great interactions between each other and also exercise.”
Williams recalls many times when his clients have personally thanked him for introducing and improving their love for cycling. He says it touches him, as the clients tell Williams that if it weren’t for The Doctrine, they wouldn’t have tried travelling, competing or even pushing themselves to make and break their personal goals.
His members even get to enjoy cycling vacations organized by the company, encouraging the athletes to work hard and play hard together. This is one of the many perks that draws customers to The Doctrine because it helps create memories and bonds that last.
“A couple years ago, in 2015, a group of us from Calgary were all going to compete in this amateur event in France, and we were all doing this particular event for the first time,” says Williams.
“I loved going over there as a group of friends and just experiencing it all together. It made me realize the opportunities cycling gave us all, like in terms of friends and opportunity to travel and racing. It seemed like it was like everything I ever wanted.”
But, when COVID-19 hit, all his travels and cycling classes came to a stop. Williams says he had a difficult time remembering that, before the pandemic arrived, his business was quite successful.
I’ve been trying to tell myself, I’m actually fairly lucky that I was in the position that I was in. I was able to adapt where some people just lost their jobs.”
After Alberta’s first wave of COVID-19 restrictions, Williams knew he had to adjust in order to keep his clients both happy and healthy.
“I’m thinking about how I can make the experience better for my members, make the connections better, all the time, and you constantly adapt to meet things like COVID,” he says.
Williams changed his studio so people could maintain a safe distance but were still able to see one another. He installed plexiglass between each bike station, and ensured there was a three meter barrier between each athlete.
He made other changes too, like mandatory masks while not working out, more cleaning products and no fans. Everyone was bringing their own bikes, towels, water and snacks to ensure safety and they limited capacity in their facilities as well.
Then, the Alberta government stopped all indoor group fitness classes starting Nov. 27 because of COVID. Williams has been offering virtual classes in the absence of in-person training.
Although the pandemic has been rough, the best part of the experience for Williams has been learning to push past the problem and solve it in order to keep his clients happy.
“It’s extremely satisfying when something goes right. COVID was frustrating, because at first, everything went wrong,” he says.
“But then, I tried to adapt really quickly, and then some things went right. It’s neat as a business owner, to be personally responsible for this entity, that is your business. And it’s satisfying that way, even though it’s a lot of work.”
Williams recognizes that while COVID-19 may be hard on The Doctrine, it has shaped him into a better owner — something his clients seem to appreciate.
“I receive emails or texts or actually in-person, every once in a while, just little things that say, ‘this has really helped me get through this,’ or, ‘this has really helped me explore different things,’” says Williams. “That’s what makes the whole thing worthwhile.”