When I was promoted to market manager seven years ago, my husband, Victor, and I bought a large property, which had been a big dream. We turned it into a farm and we have a lot of animals: dogs, donkeys, ponies, chickens, turkeys, and goats. But after we moved in, I had a terrible accident. I was cleaning the property and there was a gas explosion. I was left with third degree burns all over my body. I was in the ICU in the burns unit for 21 days and then I was placed on home care.

During my recovery I gained a lot of weight.

I was so grateful to be alive that nothing else mattered. I’m 48, and Victor and I have two sons, 20-year-old Alejandro and 17-year-old Alex. My priority has always been taking care of my family. But I stopped investing in myself. I’d been an athlete when I was younger — I did powerlifting — and I felt terrible. And my sleep was awful. Two years ago, I started losing weight, but I needed more support and motivation. My market coordinator, Sandra Raines inspired me to start the Thrive Challenge. She was a winner. 

My first Microstep was packing my lunch every day.

I’ll have tuna salad and fruit. And I stopped drinking soda. Planning ahead helps me to be consistent about eating because I have a fast-paced job and everything changes in a minute. Before I’d have good days — and very bad days when I’d grab fried chicken on the way from one store to another. 

My family and I challenged ourselves to cook in a different way.

It’s been hard because we’re Puerto Rican and we’re used to frying food. But we’re using our air fryers for everything now. We’ll cook chicken in one and corn on the cob in the other. Alex loves to cook and makes delicious stir fries and salads. I’ve lost 12 pounds since starting the Challenge four months ago, and I feel great. 

Working on the farm is great exercise.

Alex and I feed the animals and change their water. And we collect the eggs from the chickens. We used to ride our side-by-side around the property, but now we walk everywhere. 

I’m much more active. 

I’m helping Alex build a dune buggy from scratch, which is great fun. He wants to be a mechanic. And the quality time we spend together is very healing.

We talk about school, and plan vacations. 

We’re planning a family reunion with all the cousins in Puerto Rico this summer. Also, we’ve started a tradition of getting together with all three generations in our family every single year. And in December, we’re all going on a trip to Amsterdam, Paris, and Switzerland.

My older son, Alejandro, is at college — he wants to be a doctor.

He comes home at the weekend and helps on the farm. He often brings his girlfriend who’s a sweetie and loves animals too. 

After my accident my husband adopted a small dog for me.

Max is my therapy dog, my baby, and he’s supported me throughout my journey. We rescue animals and being with them all on our farm makes me happy. They give you unconditional love and they’re always happy to see you. 

Volunteering also helps me to heal. 

Walmart is a big sponsor of the Children’s Miracle Network and I just went to our kick-off fundraiser. It was the same hospital where I was in intensive care. And I found I could be back there this time without any anxiety. It was great seeing how the money we’re raising is impacting kids’ lives.

With Thrive I’ve learned to take time for myself.

I put the phone down after work and I don’t check emails. I get a massage every week and go to the chiropractor. And my sleep is better. Victor and I watch TV together in the evening, usually Animal Planet or nature shows — nothing stressful like news. I’ll also watch a Thrive Reset and take time to breathe. Around 9 o’clock we’re in bed. 

Last week I actually put on my shorts.

I have a lot of scars and I used to only wear long sleeved shirts. I would never wear shorts. Accepting my scars is a victory sign. I love who I am and I love the way I look. Finally, I’m accepting myself — this is the new Sheila.

— Sheila Perez, Walmart Supercenter #697, Ocala, FL; $5K Winner