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Katherine "Katie" Novak had a series of "Katie-isms" that clients at Burn Boot Camp in Maple Grove came to know well. "If you can, you must" was a phrase that Novak, a lead trainer at the gym, used to motivate those in her classes, but it also proved a motto for the rest of her life, friends and family said.

"She was always about helping people," remembered her mother, Beth Novak. If Katie Novak could offer advice, encouragement or support to someone, she did.

Katie Novak, of St. Louis Park, died unexpectedly on Jan. 18. Her family suspects her heart stopped while she was napping. She was 31. Her son, Nolan, and co-parent, Chris Kuker, had both recently tested positive for COVID-19, but Katie Novak had tested negative and was vaccinated.

"It was an absolute shock," said her father, Barry Novak. Since Katie Novak's death, her parents have heard from dozens and dozens of people — both from the gym and from the broader community — who were affected by her positive energy.

"We didn't fully understand her impact until her death, but we've been given this bittersweet gift of understanding an aspect of our daughter that we only had a glimpse of," Barry Novak said.

A few days after her death, Katie Novak's co-workers, clients and family gathered at the gym to share memories. They talked about how she always greeted people with a cheery "Hey, hey!" and was an expert at encouraging people to push themselves and stay motivated.

One woman told of a time when Novak came up to her after class and welcomed her back to the gym after a period of time when she was too down to attend. The woman, who was depressed and struggling, confided in Novak, who met her gaze and said, "I've been there too, and we'll get through it together." She held true to her promise, and that woman told Novak's parents that their daughter saved her life.

Beth Novak said even as a child, her daughter was quick to reach out to others — so much so that she would frequently invite neighbors and passersby inside the house for snacks.

"She truly believed everybody had potential," Beth Novak said.

Tina Hegna, the owner of the gym where Katie Novak worked, said that conviction and positive energy came through even in Novak's first phone interview and never wavered, even when the pandemic changed protocols at the gym shortly after Novak was hired. Hegna said she had planned to have Novak soon start working as lead trainer at three gyms across the metro area.

"She was such a great leader," Hegna said. "We really thought we were going to work together for 20 years."

Still, both Hegna and Novak's parents have found peace in the fact that she had found her passion and purpose at such a young age.

"It's a tragedy that she died so young, but it would have been an even greater tragedy had she passed before she found that meaningful intersection of her passion and her energy at a place that loved her so much," Barry Novak said.

Burn Boot Camps around the country are honoring Katie Novak with workout events in her memory.

In addition to her parents and son, Novak is also survived by her brother, Joseph Novak of Salt Lake City, Utah. Services have been held.