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Nicole Shoaf is a co-recipient of the 2020 YWCA Women of Distinction Award in the health and wellness category.

Leading by example

Nicole Shoaf stepped into a volunteer role to support other women to lead healthy lifestyles. Now, she has been honoured for her leadership and exceptional contributions to the sport of triathlon.

Shoaf, a finance manager in the Department of Pediatrics, is a co-recipient of the 2020’s YWCA Women of Distinction Award in the health and wellness category. The award was announced earlier this fall during the YWCA’s virtual celebration, which recognizes women for making a positive impact in their community.

“You do it because you love it, because you find value in what you’re doing,” said Shoaf on receiving the award. “To be acknowledged by the community, I’m so grateful for it.”

The award nominations for Shoaf praised her leadership and ability to drive change within the triathlon community, including bringing the sport to under-represented groups such as youth and low-income women.

Originally from Saskatoon, Shoaf moved back to the city in 2013 and was looking to get involved in the community. A colleague suggested the Just Tri-It (JTI) program, a women-only introduction to triathlon, which fosters an environment that empowers women through healthy transformations. Shoaf discovered the program to be much more than fitness. 

“I found this amazing group of women – the participants were all just like me, looking for some community, looking for a way to improve our lives,” said Shoaf. “Then was this amazing group of volunteers that was contributing to help me. I had an absolute blast. This was the community that I was looking for.”

Shoaf soon found herself wanting to become more involved in the JTI program. She was approached to join the board and found her organizational skills and ability to get things done were a good fit. Eventually, Shoaf took on volunteer leadership roles in the JTI program, the Saskatchewan Triathlon Association, and the Saskatoon Triathlon Club, where she served as vice-president and then president.

Through Shoaf’s leadership, triathlon membership increased across the province and helped bring triathlon to demographics not traditionally involved with the sport. 

“As I listened to our members, and I listened to the community, I found we had a great opportunity – because of our available time, income and social outlook – that we could help other groups in the community,” said Shoaf. “I thought ‘OK, how do we do that within the scope of our club.’ ”

Shoaf looked at how they could offer the JTI program to more women. The program teamed up with the YWCA’s Turning Points initiative – which helps women making positives changes in their lives – to help remove financial barriers to allow these women to participate. 

“Building that out was really heartwarming,” said Shoaf. “Having them experience something like a personal goal they could achieve, surround themselves with women who are doing the same things and are very supportive was fantastic.”

Shoaf also worked with local and provincial boards to bring triathlon to youth through partnerships with J2J Fitness and Child of the Cross Ministries.

For Shoaf, stepping up to lead started as a way to contribute and expanded from there.“The leadership roles just build on each other. If you can see a problem and find a solution by building relationships, talking about things and making connections, it just sort of grows.”

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