On Tuesday Evening, Pewsey Vale School played ‘host’ to a full house consisting of Staff, pupils and people from the wider community as they kicked off their Lecture series “Inspiration”. Their first guest speaker was Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, Great Britain’s first and last ever Ski Jumper!
This event was absolutely fantastic and from the evening I took away some very clear messages which I shall share.
As a boy, Eddie – by his own admission – was a bit of a dare devil, loved to do daring things – or anything that his friends challenged him to do…
Throughout his childhood, his passion was tuning in every Sunday afternoon to watch Ski Sunday. As a boy, he had posters all over his wall – these posters were later used in his film “Eddie the Eagle” – of famous Alpine Skiers. He first got the desire to ski when he was in the third year of Secondary School – Year 9 in today’s educational system. Having never skied before, he went on a ski trip with his School to Adamello in the Italian Dolomites.
After four hours of skiing on the nursery slopes his friends dared him to jump over a road, never one to back away from a challenge, he went back up the nursery slope to ensure he got enough speed and then attempted to jump clear of the road – he successfully managed this however his landing wasn’t so good as he ended up in someone’s garden!
Eleven years later, a Ski Centre opened locally to where Eddie lived. He spent all of his free time on the slope learning to Alpine Ski, Slalom, Giant Slalom, he began entering competitions and winning. His Team GB career really started when he entered and won a major Alpine Skiing competition, he was invited to join the England team. His career as a member of the England team of Alpine Skiers was very short-lived as he was kicked out after 1-day because he didn’t fit in. He didn’t have new designer ski wear, he didn’t have most technological equipment – in fact most of his stuff was second – or third hand.
This rejection just made Eddie more determined than ever to achieve his dreams of one day becoming a Winter Sports Olympian.
It took him two and half years to get his International license to Ski Slalom and whilst he didn’t have a lot of money he felt that going to Lake Placid in the USA would be the stepping stone that he needed to help him achieve his dream – what he didn’t factor into his move to Lake Placid – an part of upstate New York – was that it was actually more expensive than being at home in the UK and very soon he ran out of money.
At this point many would have admitted defeat and let go of their dream but Eddie was so determined he just fine tuned it a little as he spotted a gap in the market… Ski jumping.
At Lake Placid they had three jumps 10m, 15m and 40m which, on average, takes a person 4-5 years to perfect. In one afternoon he had completed all three jumps. The resort wouldn’t allow him to do jumps that were any higher so he stayed for one month and perfected the 40m jump before returning to the UK.
When he spoke of his dreams upon his return, many people said: “Most normal people wouldn’t do it”, “Your next jump could be your last!”
Having saved some money working with his dad as a plasterer, in Gloucestershire; he decided to travel to Switzerland in his mum’s car. During his time in Switzerland he experienced hardship – he had nowhere to sleep, no food to eat but he was living his dream as he was doing what he had always wanted to do since he was a little boy watching Ski Sunday.
In Switzerland he met and made friends with competitive skiers from many different countries. Each and every one of them gave him new kit: googles, a helmet (with a proper chin strap) ski suit, skis, wax. They even invited Eddie to train with them.
He recalled meeting Andre – The national coach for Switzerland, and asked him for some advice or pointers to help him improve and Andre said “You land too close to your take off!”
Eddie competed in many events at this time and was able to qualify for the 1988 Winter Olympics, however the Olympic board moved the goal posts not once (as shown in the film) but four times as he didn’t have the right “credentials” for Team GB.
As his dream became a reality he realised that you have to hold on to your dreams and that only you can make your dreams come true! Eddie said “Nothing I like better than proving people wrong” “The more you’re told No, the more inspired you become”
At no point did Eddie ever consider or think of giving up!
When he represented Team GB in the 1988 Winter Olympics, Calgary; he came 58th out of 58 (he thought that this sounded better than saying “last place”). He made the crowd laugh as he went on to explain that he didn’t come last as a Frenchman who had broken a bone on one of the practice runs had to bow out of the competition which technically meant that he came 58th out of 59 jumpers!
Written by Tracey Konynenburg