When Rachel Heim found out that swim practice was canceled the morning of Nov. 20, she suspected something wasn’t quite right. Hours later, her life would change forever.
Joe Morris, her boyfriend and a former Ohio baseball player, had convinced assistant coach Brian Peresie to tell Heim about the fake cancellation and also told her teammates not to let her know.
Morris then proceeded to take Heim to the couple’s five most meaningful locations, including Old Man’s Cave and James Hall, where they lived as underclassmen and where Morris later worked as a resident assistant. At each stop, he read a poem about the place’s significance.
Finally, Morris took Heim to Emeriti Park, the place where they rekindled their relationship a year and a half earlier. After praying together, Morris got on one knee and proposed to the All-Mid-American Conference swimmer.
“I’m definitely proud of how I pulled that off,” Morris said. “It was a pretty long, extravagant effort. I took her phone right before so she couldn’t ask her teammates about practice.”
The two former Ohio athletes will marry June 17 in Heim’s hometown of San Diego. It’s only fitting that, after four years of dominance as an Ohio swimmer, Heim chose to have the reception off the Pacific Ocean.
“I grew up on the water,” Heim said. “Plus, my dad has loved fishing his entire life. It only seemed natural.”
Morris and Heim met through Reach Out on Campus in 2007 and first began dating April 20, 2008. Their religious beliefs combined with the connection they had as Bobcat athletes drew them to each other.
With such hectic schedules, they understood how busy the other was. Similarities in practice schedules also allowed them to spend time away from their teams together.
It also provided for some interesting encounters in Ohio’s Carin Strength and Conditioning Center.
“We’d sometimes train at the same time with our different teams,” Morris said. “Sometimes, I’d try to sneak a glance or shoot a wink or sneak a quick smile.”
“It was always funny to bump into each other in there,” Heim said with a quick laugh.
The couple broke up after about a month in 2008 because of a recent occurrence in Morris’ life. His brother-in-law, a role model for him since he was eight, had cheated on his sister, which scared Morris.
At first, he tried not to let it affect him, but seeing his sister hurt so much scared him about his relationship with Heim.
“I was afraid that I could hurt someone else like that since I had modeled so much of my life around him,” Morris said. “Who’s to say I’m not going to fall down the same steps?”
They went their separate ways that summer, and Morris took an internship with NASA the following fall. Morris’ focus on his electrical engineering major and research led him to leave the baseball team in 2008.
“He took the smart route,” baseball coach Joe Carbone said. “He was a great young man and a good ballplayer. I’m proud of everything he’s accomplished.”
When Morris returned, he and Heim would see each other when they played in a Sunday basketball league at Ping Recreation Center
“That’s really when it started to resurrect,” Morris said.
Morris asked Heim to date again May 10, 2009, at Emeriti Park, and the couple has remained strong ever since.
With the wedding approaching quickly, Morris and Heim will finish their final exams early in order to make final preparations in San Diego before the wedding. They felt the date was right after praying about the right time to tie the knot.
The soon-to-be-newlyweds will hold a reception in Ohio July 16 for those who cannot make it to San Diego.
Morris and Heim will quickly become “parents” after the summer to some of the younger students involved in Athletes in Action. They will assume the duties as house parents at the organization’s newly acquired house, 4 University Terrace, where they will help mentor the residents.
“I feel like it’s only fitting,” Morris said. “That type of service will really set the tone for our marriage. I’m nervous but definitely excited.”
Morris is beginning a fellowship with the U.S. Department of Defense, which will take the couple to Albuquerque, N.M., after next school year.
But for now, the focus remains on what lies ahead during the next couple of weeks. Both said they were more nervous about what needs to happen before the wedding than the actual ceremony itself, but they do know emotions might get the best of them when the long-awaited day arrives.
“It might sound weird,” Morris said, “but in all the weddings I’ve seen, I’ve always judged how good the husband will be on if he cries when he sees his wife walking down the aisle.
“That emotion has always hit me, and I feel like that’s how ours will be.”