How Lightning Strike Survivor and Latter-day Saint Defied the Odds, Relied on Faith for Recovery

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News associate editor

  • 11 December 2018

A.J. and Sarah Edwards with their dogs Lily and Pad. A.J. was struck by lightning when he was 12 years old.  Photo courtesy of A.J. Edwards.

Article Highlights

  • After being struck by lightning 20 years ago, A.J. Edwards has relied on family and faith for recovery.

“I’ve found that the more you rely upon God and your faith, you find that you have the tools to overcome anything.” —A.J. Edwards, lightning strike survivor

Lightning doesn’t cross A.J. Edwards’s mind when he wakes each morning. He doesn’t step outside and scan the skies for storm clouds. He’s not even rattled by sudden claps of thunder.

“I can go a long time without even thinking about lightning,” he said.

But don’t be mistaken—lightning has shaped, defined, and refined much of Edwards’s life over the past two decades.

On September 30, 1998, 12-year-old A.J. and his Little League football team in Inkom, Idaho, were on the field scrimmaging. Seemingly out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning struck A.J., knocking him unconscious and near death.

A pair of Latter-day Saints who were both trained emergency medical technicians rushed to the fallen player and began performing CPR.

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Bryce Reynolds, who had received the Melchizedek Priesthood just weeks earlier, cradled A.J.’s head and gave the boy a priesthood blessing.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recounted that desperate but faith-filled moment in his October 2000 general conference address:

“As Bryce Reynolds closed that brief but fervent blessing offered in the language of an 18-year-old, A.J. Edwards drew his first renewed breath” (“Sanctify Yourselves”).

A.J. and Sarah Edwards were married in the Logan Utah Temple seven years ago. Photo courtesy of A.J. Edwards.

A.J. Edwards, shown with his wife, Sarah, is a captain in the Idaho Army National Guard. Photo courtesy of A.J. Edwards.

Edwards believes a confluence of medical training and priesthood power preserved his life that autumn day. Men of action and faith saved him. They demonstrated principles that became the subject of the Church-produced video “Sanctify Yourselves” that has been viewed by hundreds of thousands.

Edwards recovered from his injuries, but it wasn’t easy. Over the past 20 years, that unforgettable day has offered him unexpected perspectives.

Being struck by lightning, he said, “changed the dynamic of my life. If it had not happened it would have been easy for me to go a different route. It gives me something to always remember.”

For one, he found inside himself a tenacious grit that has served him well for two decades.

“It was a long recovery,” he said. “I had to learn how to walk and talk again. It was pretty intense.”

He also decided in the grueling months after the lightning strike that he would never let another define his limits.

Some doctors told him he would never walk again. “I proved them wrong and ran a marathon a year after the accident.” Others doubted he would return to the gridiron. “But I kept playing.”

Edwards and many of the boys who witnessed the lightning strike reunited and won a state football championship at Idaho’s Marsh Valley High School.

He made a daily choice to endure and overcome his physical challenges. But Edwards is quick to add he was never alone. In the grim moments following the lightning strike he was cared for by people who loved him. That pattern continued throughout his physical and emotional recovery. He credits his parents, Cal and Karla Edwards, and other faithful loved ones.

“I had to deal with so many issues, but my family and friends were with me always.”

Army Captain A.J. Edwards stands near a military airstrip. The lifelong Church member was struck by lightning 20 years ago and utilized resilience and faith to recover from his injuries. Photo courtesy of A.J. Edwards.

Edwards also relied upon prayer and his growing testimony.

“The biggest thing that helped me get through [the difficult years] was staying close to the gospel and reading my scriptures,” he said.

That spiritual reassurance, felt so strongly in the moments after the lightning strike, would help him navigate the typical struggles facing teenagers and young adults.

After being on the business end of service for many years, Edwards was anxious to serve others.

First he served a mission to Chile, where he shared the faith and priesthood power that had profoundly blessed his own life. Missionary work and learning a new language wasn’t easy, but again he opted to persist.

After returning home from Chile he enlisted in the Idaho Army National Guard. Joining the military wasn’t easy. Because of his lightning-related injuries he had to petition for several medical waivers while demonstrating he was physically fit for service.

He had hoped to fly helicopters. The Army had other ideas. “So I found another way to fly—I went to Airborne School.”

His tenacity was further rewarded when he received an officer’s commission by completing the Army ROTC program at Brigham Young University–Idaho. Now a captain, he serves as an armor officer working with tanks.

“One of the reasons I joined the military was to try to be an example for others,” he said. “I work with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. It’s been a unique blessing.”

Military life is demanding. He spends a lot of time away from his wife, Sarah, and their Boise home. But joy is always nearby, he said. The Edwardses are expecting their first child in a month—a baby girl they plan to name Alice.

And he wears more than one uniform, serving as the assistant Scoutmaster in the Indian Lakes Ward, Boise West Idaho Stake.

Twenty years have passed since that unforgettable day on a youth football field in southeastern Idaho, but random people remember his story. “I still get people who say to me, ‘Oh, that was you?’”

Enough time has passed that he can even find a bit of humor in his ordeal. His buddies, for one, won’t let him forget. “I’ve been called a lot of things: Zap. Sparky. Flash,” he said, laughing.

Yes, he hopes lightning never strikes twice. But he doesn’t fear storm clouds of any form.

“I’ve found that the more you rely upon God and your faith, you find that you have the tools to overcome anything.”