Trusting Your Gut

How listening to that little voice made and saved this mover and shaker

Heather Harrington, location: Compass Wellness, Photo: Chad Chisholm

You always hear the advice to listen to your gut but when society is urging you to stay the course, it’s not always easy to let your intuition guide you. In 2008, Heather Harrington was working in finance and following the career path she had always thought she wanted. In reality, that job was the catalyst for her to finally follow her heart. “I would wait until noon to go to the gym every day.  That’s where my creativity flowed and I felt more like me — not sitting at my desk every day,” remembers Heather with a smile. She knew what she had to do to live more authentically, so after some time, she finally took the plunge. She left her cushy finance job to become a certified yoga instructor, then personal trainer, spin instructor and so on. “I just couldn’t get enough.  My body and my brain were fueled by fitness and the community I was creating was amazing.” Fast forward to 2017 and Heather once again listened to that little voice.  This time it told her to gather that community and start a gym where she could share her passions and her talents every day. That dream became Compass Fitness Denver. “It was amazing — people started showing up hungry for more so we grew to 20 instructors, offered kid care and eventually expanded our offerings between two locations — Compass Fitness and Compass Wellness.”

Using a towel on a smooth floor, stand with the ball of one foot on the towel. Bend the standing knee and send the hips back, sliding the foot on the towel out to the side, keeping that knee straight. Squeeze the glutes and push down through the standing foot to return to the starting position. Complete 15 on each side.
Photo: Chad Chisholm

So in 2020, Heather Harrington was living the life she designed. Despite the intense stressors of COVID (especially on the fitness community), her adorable daughter and hunky husband were by her side, and her two gyms were thriving with both virtual and small group in-person classes. Heather’s sense of humor, down-to-earth personality and tough-as-nails determination make her a force to be reckoned with, yet when her doctor told her not to worry about getting a mammogram at 40, she couldn’t shake that nagging voice again. Her grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 42, so Heather felt like she needed to be sure. Despite her doctor’s advice, she trusted that voice and got a mammogram as her 41st birthday present to herself. And it’s lucky she did.

Begin in a seated position with hands and feet on the floor. Contract your abdominal muscles and core slowly and lift your legs up to an extended position at a 45-degree angle with your torso. Reach your arms straight forward or reach up toward your shins as you are able. Hold until you can’t any longer.
Photo: Chad Chisholm

“Here I am, navigating a global pandemic as a female business owner of two gyms, raising my five-year-old daughter, trying to keep it all together and now I have to deal with cancer? It felt surreal to say the least.” 

It turns out Heather had stage 3 breast cancer. Last August the doctors found three tumors and were concerned there could be more. “These tumors spanned a large area and were growing fast. I had to take action right away.” In typical Heather fashion she faced cancer head-on with her family, friends and fitness community supporting her every step of the way. Her cheerleaders helped her stay focused on healing, focused on being authentic and of course, infused each day with an oversized dose of humor. “Being able to laugh is such a gift, truly a gift.” 

Stand next to a bench (or chair), then take a couple of steps forward from the bench and place your rear foot on it. Lower yourself until your knee almost touches the ground, then return to the starting position. Complete 15 times on one leg before switching to the other.
Photo: Chad Chisholm

Fast forward to almost 10 months after her diagnosis: Heather had a bilateral mastectomy followed by chemotherapy to target her fast-growing, estrogen-fueled breast cancer. She’s gearing up for reconstructive surgery and her outlook is as positive as ever. 

“You have a choice to live in fear or to let go of the worries and focus on the good. As hard as this year has been, I’m showing my daughter what it means to be a strong woman, how to be resilient no matter what and to value the importance of community. Those are the things I choose to focus on.”

Start light until you master the form. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arm bent, as in the top of a biceps curl, so your palms are facing you. Now, instead of pushing straight up, spread your arms to each side laterally, then press your arms up and twist your hands so your palms face forwards. For full range of motion, finish by pushing your head forwards and reaching as high as you can so your biceps are close to your ears. Complete 15 lifts.
Photo: Chad Chisholm

As she looks to the future, Heather wants to open more Compass Fitness gyms and to grow her brand with workshops, retreats and new virtual classes each day. And my gut says she will do it all, and then some.


2059 S. Broadway, Denver


COMPASS Wellness

1842 S. Broadway, Denver