An exercise in resolve
Gym owner Julie Courcier meets goal after goal, proving life is what you make of it.
In her early 30s, Courcier became involved in the “I CAN” support group for parents of children with congenital amputations. She and other adult amputees answer online questions for parents.
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Julie Courcier never stops.
She knits. She hikes. She goes fishing with her husband of 21 years, Mark. She trains for and runs major marathons around the world.
She also is the co-owner of a popular Tulsa “boot camp” called Fitness Protection Program, where she teaches exercise to a bustling membership.
And she does it all with one fully formed arm.
“People with two arms ask me all the time how I do everything with only one,” says the 45-year-old businesswoman. “I don’t know how I would do it any other way, because it is the only way I know how.”
A birth defect called congenital amputation left Courcier with a partial left arm that ends just below her elbow. It is a condition in which amniotic bands wrap around a limb in utero, cutting off the limb’s blood supply.
As a child, Courcier remembers her pediatrician insisting she wear a prosthesis with a hook throughout grade school (“which I hated,” she says), and she was teased by some of her peers, “who just didn’t understand,” she says. But by the time she hit junior high, the determined young woman was a cheerleader and played tennis, softball, soccer and the trumpet.
Courcier grew up in Kansas and Missouri and moved as a teen to Tahlequah, where she attended high school and later earned two bachelor’s degrees (in business administration and marketing) at Northeastern State University.
After moving to Tulsa, where she met her husband, Courcier began her 25-year retail career as a cashier at Walmart. In a speed contest among her fellow cashiers at the store, she nailed first place.
She later worked her way up to become northeastern Oklahoma district manager for Bath & Body Works.
Around that time, Courcier says she noticed herself gaining weight. She started running, but after an overuse injury, her chiropractor recommended she try cross training. She tried a boot camp program and loved it, she says. So much so, she became a certified fitness instructor. Then, “the opportunity arose for me to open a gym and studio” with co-trainer Kasey Kellough — and they did it this past January.
Fitness Protection Program, located at 2605 S. Memorial Drive, just reached 110 members, doubling its space this past summer — a growth “way beyond our dreams,” Courcier says. She and Kellough rotate to teach nine boot camp classes a day, between them. All participants fall between ages 12 and 55. Most participants — who the gym owners asked to name the business through a voting process — are women in their late 20s, though about 10 percent are men.
“We strive to provide a sense of feeling and belonging and (a) place to make connections here,” Courcier says.
Despite Courcier’s professional success, she has often encountered curiosity — and sometimes, insensitivity — about her birth defect.
Courcier was working at the Disney store when an inquisitive child asked about her arm.
“I told him, ‘Well, this is the way God made me,’” Courcier recalls.
A woman standing nearby heard Courcier’s reply and said, “No, that’s not right. God doesn’t make mistakes.”
Courcier says she responded calmly to the woman, “Ma’am, that is a rude thing to say. I will not be helping you today.” She asked another employee to assist the woman, then walked away.