Heaven rejoices in success, father’s recovery: ‘The bounce back has been real’

Donald Heaven didn’t want to force a specific sport on his daughter. But he saw Amani was taller than other girls her age and the athleticism was there in whatever she did, from dance to basketball to volleyball.

Amani enjoyed training with her dad, even as he worked out in the offseason for the CFL or Arena Football League. The desire to put in the work was never an issue, it was more of a question of what sport she would gravitate toward.

“She loves working out,” Donald Heaven said. “She would always train with me. She was always stronger than most of the kids. So when she started picking up the shot put, she would beat people off just the talent alone. From the minute she picked it up you could tell she had some talent. She was throwing 40 feet as a freshman. If you go on a trajectory, you knew she was going to go from there.”

Amani went on to become a four-time state finalist in the shot put, taking the bronze three times, and was also a two-time state finalist in the discus. By the time she graduated from Hallandale (Fla.) High as a member of the National Honor Society and with certification in Adobe Premiere, Heaven had plenty of options but knew where she wanted to go to college. She found a family atmosphere with FSU’s track and field team and a digital media production program that would help her pursue opportunities in broadcasting and communications.

“I did decide during my recruiting process that I want to start my own legacy at one point and I did want to branch off a little bit,” Amani said. “When I was on my visit coming here, I realized how much more I did want to carry on the legacy and just represent Florida State. I grew up around Florida State all my life. I love it here.”

Amani’s career has taken flight, with a personal-best in the discus (54.41 meters) at the ACC Outdoors that gave her a runner-up finish. She later qualified for this weekend’s NCAA Outdoors in the discus (52.78 meters) at the East Preliminaries, and Amani narrowly missed qualifying in the shot put when she finished 14th (16.34).

“Amani has been this weight-room beast,” FSU coach Bob Braman said. “She’s the strongest human we’ve had come out of that weight room on the women’s side. Really, really works hard. Did a good job when Dorian Scott was the coach, but just couldn’t make it all click. Now with Doug Reynolds coming in as coach, that’s just worked. Sometimes it doesn’t matter the message but the messenger. With Doug, he’s a real low-key guy, and they’ve just clicked.”

In just her second year of competition at FSU, Amani has shown significant improvement in the discus after throwing 48.83 meters at the East Preliminaries in 2021. She praised Reynolds for helping her at a “turning point” in her career.

“Making it to nationals is almost like just saying that I did it,” Amani said. “I finally got here, all my work that I’ve put in for this past year, two years, three years have finally come together and in the place that I should be. I’ve been struggling for a few years when it came to competition, so I missed a lot of opportunities these past two, three years when it came to doing well at ACCs or regionals or nationals.”

A member of FSU’s 1999 national championship team, Donald also took third in the discus at the ACC Outdoors in 1998 and 2000. “It brought me to tears honestly, because I know how hard she worked for it,” Donald said.

It was cause for celebration after what has been an emotional journey for Donald, his wife, Yvonne, and Amani. Donald was in Tallahassee in 2019 for the 20-year celebration of the national championship season when he suffered a seizure. An MRI detected a tumor behind his left eye, between the orbital bone but it was also pushing against his brain. The initial plan was to do surgery immediately in Tallahassee, but due to the advanced nature of the tumor and its position it was recommended that he have a specialist in Miami do the surgery. While he had to wait nearly two months, the surgeon was able to remove the tumor. 

“And then the recovery was an eight-week process, not able to drive for another six months,” Donald said. “And you walk around with a scar on your face for a while, with a fresh wound for a little bit. I had a great support system and people around me. Amani was very helpful. We went right into the pandemic, so she was able to come down and spend some time.”

Donald, 44, has had frequent follow-ups and said “so far, so good.” A longtime high school coach, Donald joined Florida Memorial University’s staff as a coach in January. It’s a four-year NAIA school in Miami Gardens, and Heaven has enjoyed coaching and recruiting.

“Dad is going strong,” Amani said. “After the surgery, it was definitely an adjustment for him emotionally and physically. He’s been just making improvements every day. And thank you for everybody who’s been checking in as well. With the help of others and their support it just made things so much easier.”

Donald is healthy, enjoying life and sharing his knowledge to the Florida Memorial track and field athletes. Yvonne has plans to open up a coffee shop in South Florida. Amani is finding success as a student-athlete. “The bounce back has been real,” Amani said.

Yes, it has. For the entire Heaven family. Donald is enjoying life and the view of Amani’s success at FSU.

“As far as the way I coach, I’ve always told my kids to pick a school and then we shoot for the school that we pick,” Donald said. “I’ve always wished she would go to Florida State. That would have been a dream of mine, for having my own kid go out there and set it on fire. She saw that vision. We had our goal set from ninth grade. We shot for that. Anything she puts her mind to, she will go get it.”

Amani Heaven qualified to compete at the NCAA Outdoors with a throw of 52.78 meters. (photo courtesy FSU athletics)