Penny Heyns was born on 8 November 1974 to a deeply religious family in Springs, Gauteng Province. She attended the local primary school and later Amanzimtoti High School in Kwa Zulu Natal where she matriculated in 1992. At school Heyns was sporty but swimming was her first choice. 

Heyns started swimming at the age of 14 and despite being a latecomer, she showed glimpses or potential of a good swimmer. In 1992 at the age of 17 she was chosen to represent South Africa in the Olympic Games in Barcelona. She won no medal but made enough impression to be offered a position with a swimming coach in Nebraska, United States America (USA). With an opportunity of lucrative contracts should she represent the USA in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, Heyns followed her conscious and represented South Africa instead. She became the only women in the history of the Olympic Games to have won both the 100m & 200m breaststroke event; a feat accomplished in Atlanta and became the first South African Gold Medallist in 44 years.

By 1998 Heyns had broken lots of world records but her moment of brilliance came on 18 July 1999 in Los Angeles, South of California in USA, where she sets four world records in just two days in the 100m and 200m breaststroke. She further eclipsed three world records in the Pan Pacific Games in 1999 in Sydney.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Penny did enough to win a gold and silver but there were some signs of her slowing down from her previous form. On 20 September 2000 she announced her retirement from swimming having set 14 world records and became the only woman in history to complete the Olympic double of winning both the 100 and 200metres breaststroke.

Heyns currently presents Telkom Splash, a swimming programme on South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC1).

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