NEW TAMPA — Heather Shourds is known as a confident, caring woman with a can-do spirit of positivity.
But, the journey in life for the affable 41-year-old has not always been one in which she's felt comfortable in her own skin.
"At one point I had no self-esteem," she said.
Throughout most of her childhood and young adult years, Shourds lived an overweight life and battled bulimia more than once.
Ten years ago she weighed 230 pounds, she was pre-diabetic and her LDL "bad" cholesterol level was way above the norm, placing her at risk for developing heart disease.
To make matters worse, her doctor told her she was allergic to gluten and corn.
As a mainly sedentary office worker at the time, she decided right then and there she needed to make some drastic changes in her lifestyle.
Shourds joined a gym, hired a personal trainer and within a year and a half was able to lose a total of 100 pounds, an amount she's managed to keep off her 5-foot-7- frame a decade later.
Though never before an athlete, she took up running, biking and swimming, a sport she never dreamed of doing because she never learned to swim, causing her to have a fear of the open water.
"My father told us when we were younger to not go any further than we could touch, so that was stuck in my mind," Shourds said.
She first credits God and secondly her trainer for convincing her to learn how to swim and to push herself into becoming a triathlon athlete. In the years that have followed she has competed in hundreds of run-bike-swim competitions.
In her most recent event — Shourds represented the USA Team in the run-bike-run duathlon segment of 2017 ITU Multisport World Championship Festival in Penticton, British Columbia last month. She qualified by placing second in a precursor competition in New Orleans close to a year ago.
In the world championship contest she finished 33rd among a field of 45 worldwide athletes in the 40 to 44 year-old age category.
"It's not what I wanted but it was still a wonderful feeling, especially considering I was told about 20 years ago I'd never walk again following a horrible accident I was in," she said.
Plus, in her view, the combination of her experiences in duathlons and triathlons help to inspire others who know her story, including the clients she coaches at the New Tampa Family YMCA.
Shourds — who in March celebrated her 10th wedding anniversary with her husband, Frank — also praises her higher power for instilling in her the desire to become a certified personal trainer, a professional triathlon coach and a certified conditioning and sports injury specialist.
Since moving from Daytona Beach to Tampa last fall, she's put those skills to good use as a swimming, biking and running instructor at the New Tampa Y.
"I encourage others to never give up, to always chase your dreams," Shourds said.
Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick, a longtime New Tampa Y member, was interested in finding a personal trainer when she stumbled upon Shourds' "struggles-to-triumphs" story posted on the Y's website.
The 50-something-year-old woman thought Shourds would be a good fit in helping her shed a few pounds and strengthen the muscles in her body.
"I love her positive and encouraging attitude, and that, in a nice way, she doesn't let me talk my way out of things that she knows will be good for me," Shaunessy-Dedrick said.
"I'm really motivated to work out with her," she added.
Shelie Bollenbach, the New Tampa Y's wellness director and Shourds' boss, is pleased to have her on board.
"I think her story appeals to a lot of people," Bollenbach said. "In addition, she has an amazing team spirit, not just in her sport, but in the way she works with her clients."
Shourds' husband, Frank, who's watched Heather gain more and more confidence in herself over the years, thinks his wife's greatest gift is her caring spirit toward others.
"That's what draws people to her," he said.
Contact Joyce McKenzie at firstname.lastname@example.org.