By Capt. Robert Taylor | Idaho National GuardOctober 2, 2018
BOISE, Idaho - The National Weather Service estimates the odds of being struck by lightning in the United States are one out of 14,600. Despite those odds, Idaho Army National Guard Capt. A.J. Edwards was struck by lightning playing football as a 12-year-old 20 years ago.
Doctors told his parents he might not live, and that if he did live, he might not walk again.
Edwards beat those odds. The lightning temporary ended his life and caused him to relearn how to walk. He ran track for his school the next spring, ran a marathon the following year and earned an ROTC scholarship to Brigham Young University -- Idaho. He enlisted into the Idaho Army National Guard in 2010 and earned his commission in 2013.
Edwards was struck by lightning Sept. 30, 1998. The last thing he remembers that day is riding his bike to football practice in Inkom, Idaho. His mother, Karla Edwards, remembers A.J. didn't want to go to practice that day because it was hot. She made him go anyway.
Karla drove to the practice field. She said the sky was blue and she didn't think anything about the dark clouds she noticed 20 miles away. Before the practice was over, she waved goodbye to A.J. and left to watch his sister play soccer. She only made it about two houses away when thunder and lightning struck at the same time.
"There was no warning," she said. "One second the sky was blue, then the next second there was thunder and lightning."
She turned around to go back to the field. The rest of the team had run under a pavilion across the street from the field. One player laid on the ground.
"I knew in my heart it was A.J.," she said.
Karla recalled running to A.J. She got to him about the same time one of his coaches could get to him. He told her there wasn't a pulse. She bent down to start doing CPR on him and another man pushed her out of the way and started performing CPR. Both men were emergency medical technicians.
Karla said A.J. was non-responsive for approximately 20 minutes before he breathed again. The ongoing storm prevented LifeFlight from responding so A.J. was transported to the hospital by ambulance. Local media reported two teammates were also injured by the lightning strike.
Once at the hospital, Karla said doctors told her A.J. may not live and that if he did, his legs were burned so badly he would not walk again. Amputation was mentioned. He was flown to the University of Utah's Burn Center as his parents drove to Salt Lake City.
"When we got to the parking lot, we didn't know if he was alive or dead," Karla said.
Inside the hospital, the Edwardses learned their A.J. was still alive. They also learned from his doctors his legs didn't show evidence of being burned.
"His recovery was a series of miracles," Karla said.
His recovery might have been a miracle, but it wasn't easy. His mom estimates it took about two years for him to make a complete recovery. He spent the next couple of months in the hospital. Months of physical therapy followed. The strike left burn marks throughout his body and ruptured an ear drum. He had to learn to walk again.
While in the hospital, A.J. recalls being able to feel electricity run through his body and said it was the most intense pain he's ever experienced. He still feels occasional spasms today but they are much milder. They are one of two lasting effects of his injury. The other is his pure determination to not let anything hold him back from living life to the fullest.
"I don't let fear control me," he said. "I don't like when people tell me I can't do something. I'll find a way to prove them wrong."
A.J. ran on his school's track team the next spring. He said it took a while to get his legs to work and to walk and eventually run again. His mom remembers his first race that year.
"It took him so much effort to get around the track for the first time," she said. "It was nothing but sheer determination. That's how he treated his recovery. I've always admired his determination. Once he sets his mind to something, he doesn't quit."
Karla said A.J. got lapped several times during that first race and that the crowd gave him a standing ovation when he was done. A year later, A.J. said he ran in a marathon to prove his doctors wrong.
His recovery was the focus of a speech, "Sanctify Yourselves," by Jeffery Holland, a member of the Church of the Latter-day Saints' Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in October 2000 at the church's General Conference. He also tells his story several times a year to church groups, scouts, schools and students at the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy. He tells them not to give up.
A.J. said the experience keeps him mellow and that he doesn't get worked up about most things.
"There's no reason to," he said. "Life's too short."
As a senior at Marsh Valley in 2004, A.J.'s team won the state championship. Many of the players on the championship team were on the field that day he was struck by lightning.
SERVICE TO COMMUNITY
Edwards enlisted into the Idaho Army National Guard in February of 2010. He said he grew up wanting to be in the military but having two older brothers, Shawn and Nicholas, already in the organization helped steer him to the National Guard.
"I wanted to serve my community and help protect the things that we have here in the United States," Edwards said.
He enlisted as a 15P air operations specialist because he wanted to fly. He was the distinguished honor graduate of his Advanced Individual Training class and has attended the United States Army Airborne School. Edwards studied recreational management at BYU-Idaho and was part of the school's ROTC program.
He commissioned in 2013 as an armor officer and currently serves as the human resources officer for the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team's 2-116th Combined Arms Battalion. He has previously served as a scout platoon leader, battalion plans officer and company executive officer.
"I like the discipline and structure of the military," Edwards said. "But my favorite things about the Idaho Army National Guard are the people I serve with and our values. I work alongside some of the best and most patriotic people I know."
Edwards lives in Boise with his wife, Sarah. The couple is expecting their first child early next year.
"I have to say I'm grateful to God for giving me a second chance with him," Karla said. "I could have lost my son that day. I'm so grateful I've had this extra time with him."