Listen to an interview with Penny Heyns talking about his Olympic memories.
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Penny Heynes

Can you imagine never hearing about the Olympics? It's hard to imagine, especially if you were an aspiring South African swimmer who invested hours into the sport and completed frequently in swim meets across the country. Your dreams would most likely be fuelled by thoughts of someday capturing a gold medal.

Not for Penny Heyns. Growing up I didn't know anything about the Olympics," she remarks. "I t wasn't until I was picked for the Olympic team that I even started thinking about them."

South Africa had been banned from the Olympics until 1992. So it's not all that surprising that Penny didn't consider the Games to be the ultimate goal of her swimming career. Yet that didn't stop her from excelling. The '92 Olympics in Barcelona were just a warm-up for 1996 where she collected two gold medals.

But the medals threw Penny off. "Even though I was a Christian, I was looking for my identity through my sport," recalls Penny. "Suddenly I had achieved what every athlete aspires to, and I still wasn't fulfilled."

Penny was shocked that success wasn't as tasty as she thought. "The Olympics changed my life," she says. "I recommitted my life to Jesus and started taking my relationship with Him seriously. That decision impacted everything."

The renewed commitment shone through what Penny did most - swimming. Looking back, Penny recalls a significant race. "As I stood on the banks I thought, ‘Okay Lord, I'm just going to enjoy the talent you've given me and express my love for you through my swimming." Penny did just that and by the end of the race she had unexpectedly broken a world record.

It was the first of many record-breaking swims. In the summer of 1999, Penny broke six world records at the Pan Pacific Games. Ironically most of them were her own. But she doesn't get too caught up in the glory. She's more interested in influencing the lives of those swimmers she trains with in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

"My swimming career is going to come to an end sooner or later," notes Penny. "I only have a certain amount of time for God to us me in other swimmers' lives. I want to be an instrument in seeing them come to know Jesus."

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