Westmoreland County girls athlete of the year: Mt. Pleasant’s Gardner adds to medal collection in unusual way

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Saturday, June 27, 2020 | 6:34 PM


It wasn’t the way Heather Gardner wanted to receive a PIAA gold medal, but because the coronavirus denied her a chance to earn it in the pool, she will take it.

In March, the PIAA canceled its championship meet after most Class AAA events had taken place but before Gardner’s Class AA competition had begun.

The PIAA decided to hand out medals based on seeds. The Mt. Pleasant senior, seeded No. 1 in the 50 freestyle, received the medal at her swimming banquet Friday.

Gardner had earned two more WPIAL gold medals in Class AA at the end of February, which gave her six, and was at Bucknell, getting ready to compete, when Gov. Tom Wolf began to enact shutdown measures in the state.

Because she was so dominant in her sport, Gardner was named the Tribune-Review Westmoreland Female Athlete of the Year. She edged numerous outstanding candidates for the annual award.

How did it feel to win two more WPIAL gold medals?

Winning the gold medals really ended my senior year really well. Ending with six gold medals overall, it’s an honor.

What was your reaction to not being able to compete at the PIAA meet?

Being seeded first in the 50 (free) and fourth in the 100 breaststroke going in — and we had relay teams going and boys relay going, which had never happened before — we were all super excited and pumped. The disappointment after we got there really tore the whole team and made everyone really upset. We were not expecting that, especially being our senior year. We had a lot of freshmen swimmers there, so we didn’t want that to be their first experience, but it is what it is and we had to learn how to get past that. We did everything we could do and made it to states.

What have you learned from the covid-19 situation and all the precautions we have to take?

You just can never know what’s going to happen and just don’t ever take things for granted. You go to school every day, and you may see people you don’t like or this class is boring, but you may never ever get to go back. The ride up to states was memorable, and you don’t take the car rides for granted. Your team is like your family, and you just hold on to that along with the memories. Just through this whole covid-19, you really learn what means a lot to you and never take anything for granted.

What inspired you to start swimming?

So when I was 8, I did gymnastics, soccer and cheerleading to learn what I liked. My dad (Joe) actually recommended swimming because my mom (Valorie) was a swimmer at Hempfield. So me and my older sister (LynnJoelle) started and we loved it, but we were scared to do meets. We told our coach we just like practicing, but now, we like the meets more than practice. When I was 12, a broke the club meet record, and I thought in my head that, ‘Wow, I can be good.’ So I put in the time and dedication to it.

Why did you select Liberty University?

I thought I was just going to go to Liberty and just have a tour, and it wouldn’t be all that great. But they really blew my mind away. We were down there for three days, and I was the only recruit down there at the time. There weren’t many people there, but it was absolutely beautiful. The team was so welcoming, the coaches, I absolutely fell in love with them. The pool itself is gorgeous, and, of course, it’s a Christian college so they have a lot of beliefs that I believe in, which is really important to me as well.

What’s one thing you’ll miss about high school?

My friends. The family that is created on the swim team is like no other. The memories that are made are so special that they hold a good place in my heart. The WPIALs and states, all those memories, I’ll always cherish those and miss those. I will come back to Mt. Pleasant and watch my sister (SaraJo) swim and younger friends swim and cheer them on.

Outside of swimming, what are some things you like to do?

I love camping. My family has a camper, so we go camping a lot in the summer. I like going to the beach, riding quads, anything outdoors I absolutely love and hanging with my friends at a bonfire.

Do you have any special vacation spots?

I love Cape May, N.J. It’s beautiful. We like to go to Yogi Bear Campground in Mill Run with our camper.

Is there one place you’d like to go that’s on your bucket list?

I’d love to go to the Bahamas, and I haven’t been on a cruise before. That would be cool to see everything and travel the world.

Is there one person, dead or alive, you would like to have dinner with and have a conversation with?

My gam (grandmother, Sandra Boyle) who passed away suddenly in November. We were not expecting it. I’d love to sit down and have dinner with her. I miss her so much.

Are you aspiring to be an Olympian?

Definitely. I thought was going to get the Olympic trial cut this summer in the 50 freestyle, but because of the circumstances with the covid-19, that did not happen. I’m hoping with the training at Liberty, it will help me to an Olympic trial cut in both the 50 free and 100 breaststroke and possibly the Olympics after that.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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