WILTON — By the end of 2016, Devon Frechette had hit a wall. She was working 14-hour days six days a week at her family’s snowmobile dealership, sometimes more. During the day she juggled looking after her toddler, one-and-a-half-year-old Paisley, and running a business with only one full-time employee besides Frechette and her husband, Scott. After work she’d go home, cook, clean and try to be there for her two teenage stepdaughters.

When it got to the point that Frechette, 25, dreaded waking up each morning and spent her days counting down the hours until she could get back to bed, she knew something had to change.

“I wanted to hit pause on my crazy life, and I didn’t have that avenue. I didn’t have that outlet,” Frechette recalled in an interview Friday. “When you own your own business, there is no clocking out or clocking in. It’s 24/7. Even when you get home at night, it’s not really like you get to relax. It’s what’s always on your mind.”

So Frechette turned to a longtime love and source of comfort: exercise and fitness. An avid athlete most of her life, Frechette had played field hockey, basketball and softball in school and went on to coach high school basketball and softball. After graduating from college and getting married, however, sports fell by the wayside. So did the gymnasium.

So in November, Frechette decided to start a group on Facebook called “17 by 2017” and invite 10 or so friends to form their own health and fitness goals for the last 34 days of 2016. The group would be a place of support and accountability. It would be a short-term source of inspiration for Frechette as she worked to regain control over her own health.

But then something unexpected happened. The group took off. Within 72 hours it ballooned from a handful of members to 150. Today the group, now known as Maine Made Wellness, has over 1,800 members.

Despite its growing size and stature, Maine Made Wellness still feels like an intimate group of girlfriends cheering one another on and picking each other up when they stumble. Members write in with post-workout selfies and meal plan victories. They trade product recommendations and reviews, workout regimens and inspirational mantras. When group members post about the guilt they feel for “falling off” the fitness wagon, others chime in with messages of compassion, empathy and support.

Initially, Frechette said, she had no intention of keeping the group going past the end of the year; but after suffering a back injury that landed her in the hospital only two weeks into her “17 to 2017” challenge, she noticed something remarkable happen. She had been forced off social media during her days in the hospital and was facing weeks of inactivity as she recovered. When she returned to the group, she found it had become a self-sustaining entity with women turning to one another for help and support as they worked toward better, healthier lives.

“Even though I was absent, those girls that were in that group were still utilizing it,” Frechette said. “They were still feeding off each other. They were still encouraging each other, and that’s when I realized this group can’t end in 2017.”

Frechette thinks in reaching out for support in her own life she tapped into a larger need. Like her, other women were struggling with their attempts to create more balanced lives. Like her, they looked at social media images of seemingly perfect female bodies, models and athletes in bathing suits and wondered, “Why don’t I look like them?”

It was only after trying to train for a fitness bikini contest that Frechette realized the images she had been seeing on social media weren’t real. They were altered, filtered, shot by professionals and often featured athletes who underwent grueling training regimens every day to achieve that moment of peak physical fitness. It was a standard that simply didn’t make sense for a young mother with life responsibilities pulling her in a million directions.

It was a realization that resonated with many of the women in the Maine Made Wellness group. Chelsea McGraw, 24, of Auburn, said she also got discouraged with the imagery she saw online. A three-season athlete in high school, McGraw said she stopped playing sports in college. With six classes and two jobs to balance, she stopped paying as much attention to her health. Two years later, she was struggling with the person she saw in the mirror when she found Frechette and the group. What she saw made her feel that she wasn’t alone.

‘Even though I was absent, those girls that were in that group were still utilizing it. They were still feeding off each other. They were still encouraging each other, and that’s when I realized this group can’t end in 2017.’

— Devon Frechette

“In today’s day and age there are so many filters and tricks, and you can really make yourself look like you have this perfect life and you’re happy all the time,” McGraw said. “It sounds terrible, but it’s nice to see other people are struggling with the same things that I am.”

Two months after joining the group, McGraw said she and her fiance have undergone a transformation. They have a well-established routine now, coming home and hitting the gymnasium five nights a week. They’ve cleared their shelves of cookies and started meal planning. Most importantly, she’s gained a lot more confidence.

McGraw credits Frechette and the group with teaching her a healthier approach to fitness. It’s not just about losing weight, but feeling better.

“It’s just become so easy for me now because of all the resources that we have,” McGraw said. “I’ve always been a super-self-conscious person, and seeing women coming together and instead of attacking each other encouraging each other all the time, it’s just an overwhelming and amazing feeling.”

The Maine Made Wellness group is governed by only a few rules: keep posts positive, private and judgment-free. It is a safe space where people can share their wellness goals, concerns, progress and setbacks. Even though the group is set to private, Frechette said it’s open to all comers. Those who wish to can simply request to join and Frechette will give them access.

The group now boasts members around the country with some hailing from Louisiana, Indiana, Texas and Ohio. It has even gone international, making its way north to Canada. Some gentlemen have joined the ranks as well, posting their own progress photos and garnering cheers and words of encouragement from other members.

Frechette encourages those just starting their own fitness journeys to start by reflecting on where they feel they need help. Whether they wish to learn about nutrition and meal planning or exercise routines, Frechette said, she wants people to see the group as a resource as they set about educating themselves on their best paths to healthier living.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Frechette said. “None of us are professionals. We’ve all learned from experience, but together we can learn together and grow and share what we’ve learned from one another.”

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

[email protected]

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick