At the Red Lodge Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting, along with the presentation of the annual Citizen of the Year award, Red Lodge presented something new: a Businessperson of the Year award. The intent of the award is to honor someone whose day-to-day work goes above and beyond expectations and touches the lives of their customers and the community. It could go to a waitress who gives outstanding service, a mechanic who comes in after hours to get your car going, a plumber who shows up in the middle of the night when it’s 20 below zero and your pipes are frozen.
This year, the first Red Lodge Businessperson of the Year award went to a couple: Steve and Debbie Mikels. As owners of Well Approach Fitness, their goal is to make our community the healthiest and fittest in all of Montana. The award isn’t just for operating the fitness center, though. Through their Dream Dance Ranch and Well Approach Fitness, Steve and Debbie have put in endless hours building and supporting the Wounded Warriors program and the Yellow Ribbon program to serve veterans. Many veterans have come back from combat wounded both physically and mentally, and their first experience outside of hospitals and rehab programs is the Montana wilderness, thanks to the Mikels family. They also work through other organizations, including the veterans’ programs at the Beartooth Elks Lodge.
Steve doesn’t believe in treating wounded warriors as disabled people. He just treats them as people. They are taken out rafting, horseback riding, and fishing. They are given an opportunity to forget about war and doctors and recovery and just live for the moment. Debbie, a consummate horsewoman, helps them only when they need help, giving them an opportunity to do things themselves when they can.
At the gym, their clients are treated the same way. A typical day will see high school athletes working out alongside people in their 70s and people going through physical therapy. They design custom programs for each person, help when you ask for it, and stay out of your way when you don’t want help.
Steve and Debbie are working to make a difference in Red Lodge, but their reach is felt much farther. Their business makes a difference to the community, and they personally make an even bigger difference.