Brothers fulfill dream of swimming for BYU, continue father’s legacy

Brothers Tanner (left) and Emerson (right) Edwards pose in their swim caps and goggles. The brothers swim together on the BYU swim team. (BYU Photo)

Brothers Emerson and Tanner Edwards are living their shared childhood dream — competing on the BYU swim team together.

The brothers, hailing from Columbia, South Carolina, competed at the Big 12 Conference Championships February 27-March 2. Emerson, a junior in the human resources program, placed fifth in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke events. Tanner, a freshman in the business school, took fourth in the 100 butterfly and seventh in the 100 backstroke events. The brothers will head to Indianapolis at the end of March to compete in the NCAA swimming championships.

“Me and (Tanner) swimming at BYU together was a dream … and now that we’re here and about to head out to nationals, it’s crazy,” Emerson said.

Emerson and Tanner said they began swimming when they were toddlers, largely due to their dad’s swimming career. 

Tanner (left) and Emerson (right) Edwards pose with their dad Heath Edwards at the pool. Tanner and Emerson now swim for BYU’s swim team. (Emerson Edwards)

Heath Edwards, their father, attended the University of Georgia on a full-ride swimming scholarship where he was a 13-time All-American swimmer. He qualified for and competed in the 1996 Olympic trials and qualified again for the 2000 Olympic trials.

Heath said the brothers started coming to the pool when they were young as a way for him to spend time with them even when he was busy coaching. Heath continued as their swim coach into their high school years, which he said allowed them unique, intimate time together.

“The sport of swimming … has allowed us to build that family chemistry, that family trust,” Heath said.

Emerson and Tanner agreed having their dad as a coach positively affected their relationships with him.

“My dad was really good at balancing being my dad and being my coach at the same time,” Emerson said.

The brothers are now swimming together collegiately for the first time.

“For the first time in their career, I’m really nervous. I have no control over how they perform … I’ve never experienced that as a parent because I’ve always been intimately involved and on deck with them,” Heath said.

All three Edwards men said swimming requires hard work. Emerson said he and Tanner would go to the pool at 4 a.m. in high school to practice before early morning seminary.

“A lot of people, they see the end results, they see me and Tanner on the podium … but what people don’t see is just the years and years of hard work and effort it took to be in that one moment,” Emerson said. “We did that with the big picture in mind of swimming together at BYU one day.”

Tanner and Emerson Edwards with their family decked out in BYU blue. Tanner and Emerson’s swim careers were inspired by their dad, Heath Edwards. (Tanner Edwards)

Besides hard work, the Edwards’ acknowledged God has played a large part in their swimming careers. 

“We just tell them to work their tail off and have faith in God … He cares about the intimate details in their lives, and if those details include swimming goals, as long as they’re willing to share God’s glory, the Lord’s gonna bless them,” Heath said.

Tanner said he especially received help from God as he returned to swimming after his mission. 

“Getting back in shape after not swimming for two years is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” Tanner said.

Tanner said it took roughly eight months to get back into swimming shape. He believes Heavenly Father helped him in the process because of the sacrifices he made during his mission.

Emerson and Tanner noted there is a healthy amount of sibling rivalry in their relationship with each other. 

“That boy’s my best friend but sometimes I hate the crap out of that kid … like a good competitive, I wanna beat you kind of thing,” Emerson said. 

Tanner added there is always a boundary of respect even in their competitions.

“We fight like brothers but we’d die for each other,” Tanner said. “Everything I’ve learned came from him.”

Heath became emotional while describing Emerson’s role as the oldest brother, saying Emerson paved the way for Tanner and their youngest brother, Sawyer.

“I don’t think that Tanner would be the swimmer he is today or the person he is today … without Emerson being his older brother and leading the way,” Heath said.

Emerson said one of his favorite experiences with Tanner at BYU has been setting two pool records at the University of Denver for the 200 and 400 medley relays.

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