Sheila Hiestand: Hall of Fame Basketball Player to Ironman With 125 lbs Weight Loss in Between


"Play the game, you know you can't quit until it's won
Soldier on, only you can do what must be done
You know in some way you're a lot like me
You're just a prisoner and you're trying to break free"

-John Parr (St. Elmo's Fire theme song)

"Mom, wife, triathlete, lawyer, in that order"
-Sheila Hiestand's "About Me" on her Facebook page

Louisville trial lawyer Sheila Hiestand is 6 foot tall, outgoing and vivacious. She has the total inner confidence that made her a Hall of Fame college basketball player and now one of Kentucky's top trial attorneys. Even with her big dollar verdicts, you learn quickly that her priorities have the balance and precise order noted on her Facebook page.

During our two hour meeting, we spent over an hour talking about her children, her husband and faith. How she went from weighing over 300 pounds to competing in Ironman races took most of the next hour. I'm able to expand upon the five minutes we spent talking about her legal career as she has worked with my structured settlement firm numerous times over the past 15 years and is a cherished friend.

Her "secret" as to how she "does it all" is a small tattoo on her wrist. It's a turtle.

Slow and steady wins the race. That is the true philosophy of Sheila Hiestand.

Early success in athletics and growing up taller and stronger than your classmates can give you a deep rooted self-confidence that you are ultimately going to succeed, even when you find yourself at a low point. Like many who grew up competing at a high level, Sheila does not do anything halfway.

Outrageous goals are a key motivator to success. Amazon wanted to be the largest retailer in the world before they ever launched their website. Google's initial goal was to digitize every piece of information in the world. People laughed at them then, but no one laughs now.

In 2007, When Sheila Hiestand found herself at the weight of 315 pounds, she decided she was going to complete an Ironman competition. In 2012, she did.

Award-winning journalist John Boel told Sheila's story in an August 22, 2012 story for WAVE 3 television news in Louisville. As Boel noted, it took Sheila three times. After losing 125 pounds, she entered the Ironman Louisville in 2010 and blew out her knee four miles from the finish line. The second year, she ran in 102 degree heat and had to stop.

Boel interviewed Hiestand as she was preparing in 2012 and noted her "never say die" attitude: "I don't want to fail, but if it happens, yeah, I'll sign up the next day."

She made it on try number three. Her slow and steady focus made it to the goal line. She is back at it again this October and raising money for charity as she does it. You can read more about her quest and donate to her cause here.

The Magic of Centre College to Adult High Achiever

"Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends"

-Green Day

"Yeah, do you believe in magic?
Believe in the magic of rock and roll
Believe in the magic that can set you free
Oh, talking 'bout magic"

-John Sebastian and the Loving Spoonful


Centre College in Danville, Kentucky was a magical place at a magical time for Sheila Hiestand. She came to the highly regarded liberal arts college on an academic scholarship and was a starter on college basketball teams that made two final four appearances and four NCAA appearances during her college career.

Sheila is in the Centre College Athletic Hall of Fame twice. Once as an individual basketball player and once as a member of the 1988-1989 women's basketball team, which was Centre's first team to ever make it to the NCAA Division III Final Four. Sheila holds the Centre career record for most games and most blocked shots. She also has the single season record for rebounds and the single game record for blocked shots (11), which she did three different times.

Sheila could really play some hoops.

She credits her basketball coach, Lea Wise Prewitt, a former University of Kentucky basketball star, who helped Sheila hone her capacities for hard work, drive and playing to win.

Centre was more than basketball. She received a degree with a double major in English and Spanish. She played the viola, violin, cello and piano. Centre has a strong history of fraternities and sororities, and it was at a Greek function where she met the love of her life, Dr. David Hiestand. Although they recently celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary, Sheila describes their relationship with the smitten excitement of a brand new romance.

I know David and he is a great guy. Also an incredibly smart guy. Not only is he a medical doctor, he has a doctorate and a number of high-powered certifications in the medical field.


"The gypsy swore our future was bright
But come the wee wee hours
Well maybe baby the gypsy lied"

-Bruce Springsteen

Sheila seemed to be living the fairy tale life. She graduated from the University of Kentucky Law School and became a partner in the Lexington office of Landrum & Shouse, one of the top insurance defense law firms in Kentucky. Then she had an opportunity to be a partner in a firm that represented injured people. She and David eventually moved to Louisville. Along the way, they had the first of their three children.

Life got very hectic and complicated. Sheila was a huge success as an attorney, and her magnetic personality was a hit with juries and her peers. She won a boatload of awards. She is the kind of person who is elected President of everything, and she has been President of the Kentucky Association for Justice and the Kentucky Bar Association's Young Lawyers Section. She served in a plethora of activities, raised her three children, practiced law at the highest level and was a devoted wife.

And she started gaining weight. And drinking more than she should. The pressure of a nonstop life, with little or no exercise was starting to get to Shelia.

In 2007, Sheila weighed 315 pounds and was unhappy.

It was time to make some bold moves.

The Journey from Weight Loss Surgery to Finishing the Ironman Race


"In The Game Of Life...Play The Cards You're Dealt"
-From the movie Rounders

"In my religion, they say, 'Act as if ye had faith... and faith will be given to you.' If we are to have faith in justice, we need only to believe in ourselves."
-Frank Galvin (Paul Newman's character) in the movie The Verdict

In 2007, Sheila was going to do whatever it took to get healthy. She was not interested in just getting to an average size or average weight. She had never done everything ordinary in her life and was not going to start now.

Like they say in Texas Hold'em Poker, Shelia went "all in."

She went to Georgetown Community Hospital in Georgetown, Kentucky (which happens to be the place where I had my weight loss surgery) and had the Adjustable Gastic Banding Surgery (better known as Lap Band) surgery. The surgery was a major tool in allowing Sheila to control her food portions and bring alcohol consumption to a minimum level. Like many of us who lose weight, as the pounds came off, Sheila got interested in exercising again.

A year after the surgery, she had lost 125 pounds and was near basketball playing weight. Then the Hall of Famer set her eyes on bigger targets. First to run a marathon and then to finish an Ironman competition.

She was not interested in actually winning an Ironman race. She just wanted to make it to the finish line in the allotted amount of time. In 2012, she did it.

Now she plans on doing it again.

"I thought that dreams belonged to other men
'Cause each time I got close
They'd fall apart again"

-Eric Carman (from the soundtrack to the movie Footloose)

There were several questions that I personally needed answered by Sheila.

On the day I interviewed her, I had lost 101 pounds in less than seven months. I'm writing a book, Brand New Man, about my weight loss journey, and it will be out in November.


Holding myself out as a role model so quickly after surgery is tricky business. Since I have had a lifetime of losing weight and gaining it back, I can't always totally get that fear of failure out of my head. Talking to Sheila gave me a tremendous amount of reassurance. It's been nearly eight years and she kept the weight off and doing athletic things that few humans can do. She gave me the confidence that I am on the right course and will continue to have tremendous success.

My next question was very personal. Is the devotion to Ironman and exercise impacting her law practice?

Getting in shape has actually made me more productive, but I am just starting to finally realize how unproductive I had gotten in the past few years. Having a second lease on life has made me better at business and a better person overall. I get my hours of exercise in everyday, but I am not training for a major event. In fact, I am not training for anything. It's very odd for me not to have athletic goals, but all of my focus is on overall conditioning, getting my health in order and watching my weight go down. Training for a competition has not hit my radar yet. Maybe it will when I get to my goal weight.

I came into the interview with a very negative bias against Ironman races. I had a former employee whose productivity fell dramatically when the employee got in Ironman competitions. Any focus on work shifted to a near obsession with Ironman. Although we had been very close, we did not part on good terms and have not spoken in the years since the employee left.

I suspect that Ironman was a symptom of our problems and not the problem, but it has been hard to get the bias out of my mind. I also suspect a person that devoted to Ironman training might have passively but aggressively resented a boss who weighed 377 pounds. Even so, my mind equated Ironman with obsessive training until Shelia set me straight.

Sheila wrote the phrase "Mom, wife, triathlete, lawyer, in that order" on Facebook page in 2009 and it accurately reflected her values then and her values now. Sheila goes at everything she does with a sense of excellence and full abandon. Her legal practice and mastery of the courtroom continues to get better and better as she maintains the benefits of a truly balanced life.

A Hall of Fame basketball player is never going to lose that quest for competition and community. Sheila talked about the close bond she has developed with others who are training for the Ironman. Going into an extreme competition is just a part of who she is.

Many employers and clients may intellectually give lip service to a balanced lifestyle, but really want people and themselves devoted to their work 24 hours a day (I have been a sinner in this category). Obsessive work habits isn't really a long-term business strategy unless you treat your body like it has disposal parts, but many people do it anyway.

I was a 56 year old, morbidly obese accident waiting to happen. God spared me and gave me a second chance to get my weight and health in order. It also has allowed me to be more productive in my work than I have in the past decade. A balanced life is key to maintaining enthusiasm.

Sheila gave me a new way to look at life. I love that she has a turtle tattooed on her arm. Slow and steady wins the race.

She understood the lesson that Aesop taught us thousands of years ago.

In a race between the Tortoise and the Hare, always bet on the Tortoise.

I donated to the charities that Sheila is supporting with her Ironman quest and will be rooting when she crosses the finish line in Louisville on October 11. You should be doing both as well.

You can learn more about Sheila and her law firm at:


Don McNay, Lexington, Kentucky, is a best-selling author, former syndicated columnist and structured settlement consultant. He is the founder of McNay Financial, McNay Settlement Group, and Kentucky Guardianship Administrators. You can learn more about him at

McNay's book Brand New Man: My Journey to Health and Happiness After Weight Loss Surgery is being published by RRP International Publishing and will be released on November 9.