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Tampa woman, 44, dies after suffering heart attack during Meek and Mighty Triathlon

A crowd of medical personnel, race staff and volunteers surround a woman after she had a heart attack in the final lap of the swimming portion of the Meek and Mighty Triathlon at North Shore Pool on Saturday. [
MONICA HERNDON | Times]
A crowd of medical personnel, race staff and volunteers surround a woman after she had a heart attack in the final lap of the swimming portion of the Meek and Mighty Triathlon at North Shore Pool on Saturday. [ MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Apr. 26, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — After congestive heart failure claimed her 47-year-old brother's life in September, Felecia Williams vowed to improve her health.

She started dieting, going to the gym on a weekly basis, and training for a triathlon.

"She knew she wasn't going to finish first or anything," her mother, Evelyn Williams, said. "She just wanted to finish."

The woman who family members described as big hearted and loving almost made it.

Felecia Williams, 44, of Tampa suffered a heart attack Saturday morning while competing in the St. Anthony's Meek and Mighty Triathlon at the North Shore Pool.

"She was supposed to do eight laps," said Daron Williams, 39, who came to the triathlon to cheer for his sister, "but just before the seventh lap, she just stopped."

A volunteer nurse had jumped into the pool to swim with her, Daron Williams said. Just 10 yards away, that volunteer turned his sister on her back. Felecia Williams was lifted from the pool and covered with towels while officials cut open her bathing suit. On-site medical staff performed CPR to resuscitate her.

Williams was taken to St. Anthony's Hospital, but her heart never regained its strength. She was pronounced dead at 9:42 a.m., said hospital spokeswoman Beth Hardy.

It's the first time a competitor has died during the Meek and Mighty race in its 21-year history, Hardy said.

"Our hearts go out to the family," Hardy said.

Gathered around a table Saturday evening, Williams' family members swapped memories instead of dwelling upon the loss. "When the body goes, it goes," Evelyn Williams said.

The third child of seven, Felecia Williams poured her energy into giving back to others, her mother said. She never married, never had kids, but she fed the homeless, volunteered at Metropolitan Ministries whenever time allowed, and visited her father multiple times a week.

Since 2001, her father, Leonard Williams, has suffered from ALS, a neurodegenerative ailment commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Evelyn Williams said her daughter, "daddy's girl," brought him meals, posters, and pictures. "Anything to keep his mind stimulated."

It was just one more example of Felecia Williams' selfless nature. She loved to read and write. She loved to joke. She wowed her peers with her culinary talents. Whether she prepared lasagna or chocolate cake, "it was great, even better than my mom," Daron Williams said.

Evelyn Williams said her daughter also had a serious side. She graduated from Brandon High School with honors. Even though she never officially finished college, she found work in law firms and banks. Her mother said her most recent employer was Albertelli Law in Tampa. Law firm officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Perhaps as much as her kindness or her cheery spirit, her siblings appreciated her pensive side.

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"She was always willing to laugh and joke," Daron Williams said, "but she could be serious and give advice and correction when she needed.

"And she always did when it was needed."

Contact Zack Peterson at zpeterson@tampabay.com. Follow @ackpeterson. Times reporter Tony Marrero and photojournalist Monica Herndon contributed to this report.

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