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GRAND FORKS — The founder of Pivot Nutrition Coaching in Grand Forks took the road less traveled to end up in Grand Forks, and the road involved a lot of hockey.

“Everybody thought I was crazy,” Danielle “Dani” Rancourt said. “They were like, ‘What are you talking about? That sounds like a terrible choice.’”

Rancourt began playing hockey at six years old. Despite a rough start, she fell in love with it and continued playing throughout her childhood.

“I cried my first practice because I was French,” Rancourt said. “I was like 99% French as a child, and I didn’t speak English. I barely understood it, and on my first hockey team, my coach was English, and I didn’t know what he was saying. So, I skated to the bench and cried to my parents, because I didn’t understand.”

Rancourt grew up in Sudbury, Ontario. All of her childhood books and films, her favorite of which are Disney-related, are in French. She never got rid of any of them, because she wants her future children to learn French at an early age.

“I kept all my French stuff, because I’m like, ‘I will teach my baby French even if I’m the only person in Grand Forks that understands and can speak to this baby,’” Rancourt said.

Her older brother, Alex, also played hockey growing up, but she said he was never as competitive as she was. Her father recognized it and decided to push her harder than her brother when they played sports as children.

“On Easter egg hunts, I would be like, ‘I got 150!’” Rancourt said. “He’d be like, ‘Whatever, I got plenty. I’m good.’ He was just always happy with whatever. He loves hockey, baseball and golf, but he never had the drive, and I don’t know if my dad instilled that in me, but I think when my dad figured out I was the competitive one, he was the one that made me shoot pucks on the weekend before I went to play with friends, and he made me do push ups.”

Rancourt’s father pushed her to hone her skills and become good enough to eventually warrant college hockey offers. She had played defense — which is rare for someone standing only 5 feet 3 inches tall — her entire career up until that point.

She said she didn’t have the natural talent to play hockey at a higher level and credits her father with pushing her to improve her skills.

“I was like, ‘Nobody else is doing this, so why do I have to do this?’” Rancourt said. “’My brother’s not doing any of this.’ And he, probably in his mind, was like, ‘Well, your brother’s not going to play college sports.’”

Even so, she only had Division III offers to play hockey when she graduated high school. She skipped kindergarten, so she decided to take an extra year to prepare and improve her stock. She met the owner of Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna, British Columbia, and she was immediately sold. He was a skating coach for former NHL player Paul Kariya.

Rancourt figured it was worth a shot, and within two months of playing, she had her first Division I offer from Wayne State University. A year after receiving the offer, the school shut its women’s team down.

Next to offer was Niagara University, which offered her a hybrid hockey and soccer scholarship due to a lack of funds.

Then came the University of Vermont, where she ended up attending for four years. Only a month after joining the team, they moved her to forward for the first time in her career. It was challenging and, by her own admission, took a couple of years to figure out.

Dani Rancourt playing hockey at the University of Vermont.

“I was never the fastest player or the most skilled player,” Rancourt said. “I wasn’t a goal scorer. I just saw the ice really well.”

Once she graduated from Vermont and then earned a master’s degree from St. Louis University, she decided to pursue a job with Exos; an athletic performance company with a location in Grand Forks. She had to pick between working at its Texas, California or North Dakota location, and, to her friends’ dismay, she chose North Dakota.

The reason Rancourt chose Grand Forks was because she had been there before. She traveled to Grand Forks in 2011 to play against the UND women’s hockey team, where she played against the Lamoureux twins.

“We weren’t friends back then,” Rancourt said with a laugh. “They don’t remember me, but I remember them, and I was like, ‘I don’t like these people. It’s not even fair.’ Every time they had a power play, there was a one timer goal. It was just ridiculous. We lost our first game to them 9-0, and I think they got five or six power play goals — just a bunch of one timers on the blue line. I was like, ‘This is like playing Team USA.’”

When Rancourt applied for the Exos job in Grand Forks, she listed her time on Vermont’s women’s hockey team on her resume. Jocelyn Lamoureaux and her sister Monique had partnered with Exos to bring a facility to the Grand Forks region in the past. Jocelyn knew Amanda Pelkey, who played for Vermont with Rancourt, through their time on Team USA in the Olympics. Rancourt said Pelkey ​​gave her a rave review of a reference, which Rancourt credits as being the reason she ultimately got the job.

“So Amanda Pelkey, who won the gold medal with the twins, ended up being an unofficial resource for my job application,” Rancourt said. “And then I ended up baking a cake for Monique’s wedding, I hosted the twins’ baby showers and I did the gender reveal cake for Monique’s first baby. So, it’s just funny how life kind of turns around.”

When COVID-19 hit, Rancourt began to think about whether she wanted to work for Exos moving forward as gyms were shutting down across the country. She was living in the country on a work visa.

“So I’m like, ‘Oh, crap,’” Rancourt said. “’I need a backup plan if things fall apart.’”

Then, she learned about online nutrition coaching through a friend who was taking a certification course from a successful dietitian. Rancourt initially took the course as a way to improve her clients’ results at Exos. However, once a rumor about shutting down made its way through the staff, she decided to “get real” about it.

Rancourt officially started Pivot Nutrition Coaching on June 30, 2021, after which the company immediately underwent rapid growth to the point where she had to hire a new dietitian just one month later.

“It was bad timing, because I announced it, and then we left for a trip to Rapid City for the Fourth of July weekend,” Rancourt said. “I had a waitlist within 24 hours to work with me, so it got real very quick. I didn’t expect it to happen, because I was only one person, and I thought I would be a ‘one-man show’ for at least a year, and I had to hire my assistant within a month of starting my business. ”

By August, she had a 42-person waitlist just to have an introductory appointment. Eight months later, she has now hired three other dietitians and is currently looking to hire as many as two more.

So, would she go back to performance training if she could? Probably not. She likes being her own boss too much, and she gets too much joy from giving her clients a confidence boost.

“My goal is to build a dietitian army,” Rancourt said. “There’s just so much nutrition nonsense out there, and that’s why I just keep growing my team, because most people that show up are grad students and moms and people who have been dieting for two to 30 years and who keep going on and off the car. They have no confidence, they feel like failures and we’re here to help them do it the right way.”

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