Until last month, Heath Edwards had one killer of a schedule. Each weekday morning during the school year Heath’s alarm would go off at 4:30 A.M. That’s 4:30 in the morning. The sun isn’t even close to being up at 4:30, school isn’t for another three hours, and the temptation to push the snooze bar is a real one. That is unless you happen to be a world-class swimmer with designs on making the 1996 United States Olympic team. If you want to swim in the Olympics, you don’t stay under the covers.
So Heath, a 17-year-old from Columbia, South Carolina, would leap—okay, he’d roll—out of bed and get ready for another trip to the pool. Harbison Recreation Center, located about a mile from the Edwards’s home, has been kind of Heath’s home away from home for the last five years. If he wasn’t at his parents’ house, the first place you’d want to check is at Harbison, where there is a better-than-average chance you’d find Heath either in the swimming pool or in the weight room.
Thirty minutes after getting up to another dark morning, Heath, his close friend Elizabeth Peake, and the rest of the Harbison Aquatic Team members would jump in the pool, and that’s how each weekday would begin.
After the 90-minute workout, Heath and Elizabeth would go to the Dutch Fork Ward building for their 6:45 seminary class. There’s no need to call it early-morning seminary. If 6:45 is early morning, what does that make 4:30? Brother James Daves’s class would end around 7:30, and Heath and Elizabeth would go their separate ways. Heath would hop in the family’s Plymouth Horizon, run home, knock down some breakfast, and then head to Irmo High. Meanwhile, Elizabeth would go across town to Lexington High. The just-completed 1993–94 school year was the fourth year Heath had this schedule. It was Elizabeth’s first.
“I used to go to the pool and then go home before going to school,” Elizabeth remembers. Of course that was before she became a member of the Church. And it’s Heath’s, uh, fault Elizabeth added an extra hour to her already-busy schedule.
“You know how a lot of guys cuss?” Elizabeth asks. “Well, Heath wasn’t like that. And he was really nice to everyone. He was just different from any guy I’d ever met. But I didn’t know he was a Mormon at first.”
She soon found out. And before long, Heath was inviting Elizabeth to ward parties and dances. Then one Sunday Heath took Elizabeth to the Dutch Fork Ward sacrament meeting because his mother was singing. “I liked church a lot. I liked how members would bear their testimonies, and how the congregation would give the sermons. I eventually started going with him every Sunday,” Elizabeth says.
The more she heard and saw, the more interested she became. Eventually, Elizabeth requested that Heath arrange for her to be taught by the missionaries. After listening to the missionary discussions for several weeks, Elizabeth asked Heath, who had just been ordained a priest, if he would baptize her.
“When Elizabeth got baptized, it was probably the most spiritually uplifting experience I’ve ever had,” Heath says. “It was too great to describe when I baptized her. And I know Elizabeth knows this Church is true. It’s a great feeling to know I introduced her to the Church because of the way I acted.”
That’s how Elizabeth came to add an extra hour to her morning routine, a routine that ended for Heath last month when he graduated from both Irmo High and from seminary.
Next month, Elizabeth will begin her senior year of high school, but it will be different. She’ll have her usual 4:30-in-the-morning routine. She just won’t have Heath there with her. In August, Heath will leave Columbia for his freshman year at the University of Georgia. He’s accepted a swimming scholarship at the Athens, Georgia, school, and is a prized addition to the Bulldog swimming program. How valuable is this guy? Last year, Heath had the fastest 200-yard butterfly time in the United States for his age group (17–18), and he also recorded the third fastest 100-yard butterfly time.
He was the 200 butterfly national champion in 1993, and finished second in 1992. He’s competed in the United States Olympic Festival, and he was recruited by several different universities. A lot of college swimming coaches wanted Heath to swim at their schools, and he had a huge decision to make when it came to choosing a college to attend. In the next two years, he’ll be making a few more decisions.
In November of 1993, Heath signed his letter of intent to attend Georgia, and he’s already committed to swimming for the Bulldogs through the 1995–96 season—his sophomore year. If things work out according to plan, he’ll be competing in the 1996 Summer Olympics in nearby Atlanta, Georgia. After that, he wants to go on a mission, whether he makes the Olympics or not.
“I’m definitely planning on going on a mission. Right after my sophomore year, depending on how close or how far I am from making the Olympic team, I’ll talk to my parents about what I’m going to do about a mission,” Heath explains.
Although a full-time mission is still a few years away, Heath’s current timetable hasn’t stopped him from sharing the gospel anyway. Elizabeth is an example of that, and so is Elizabeth’s mother, Sandy. Fourteen months after Elizabeth’s September 1992 baptism, Heath baptized Sandy.
“I knew Sister Peake felt the Spirit. She would always come to church with Elizabeth or when my mom invited her. Then she came to me one day and told me she wanted to get baptized. Nobody else knew,” Heath says. “She wanted to surprise Elizabeth and everybody else.”
Heath’s parents, John and Dawn Edwards, have encouraged their children to share the gospel, and Heath has had the opportunity to see what can sometimes happen when you do.
“Before my brother Blake went on his mission, church was something I just did and I really didn’t know if it was true. But when my brother left, I was like, Man, he’s gone for two years. He’s giving up his whole life to serve the Lord,” Heath says. “To me that was something that really woke me up. Now I do have a strong testimony and I do know this church is true.”
Another awakening came when Heath was ten. He was already a great swimmer and he knew it. At one meet in particular, Heath had won several races and then proceeded to tell—even brag—to everybody about his accomplishments. “I had five or six blue ribbons and I was going around to everybody else saying, ‘I got these. What do you have?’ A friend of mine who was probably about 15 had been watching me and she just stopped me dead and said, ‘Why are you so arrogant? You’re the cockiest little boy. You need to grow up,’” Heath says, remembering the incident very well. “After she talked to me, I promised myself I would never do that anymore and I don’t think I have.”
Heath, much more humble now, still remembers the girl’s words: “You need to grow up.” Seven years later, anybody who knows Heath could pass along this message to that same girl: He has.