‘Eddie the Eagle’ spreads message of perseverance

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  • Grand Marshal Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards rides in the Whitefish Winter Carnival Grand Parade. This year’s theme for the 59th annual Carnival was “Fly Like an Eagle.” (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

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    Michael "Eddie the Eagle" Edwards, the first Olympic ski jumper from Great Britain, spoke with Whitefish High School students Jan. 30 about his career as a ski jumper and how he achieved his dreams. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

  • Grand Marshal Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards rides in the Whitefish Winter Carnival Grand Parade. This year’s theme for the 59th annual Carnival was “Fly Like an Eagle.” (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

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    Michael "Eddie the Eagle" Edwards, the first Olympic ski jumper from Great Britain, spoke with Whitefish High School students Jan. 30 about his career as a ski jumper and how he achieved his dreams. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

At 8-years-old, Michael Edwards decided his dream was to one day represent Great Britain at the Olympics.

The only problem was he didn’t know how he’d get there.

Eventually Edwards picked up skiing, and after seeing ski jumps for the first time in Lake Placid, New York, he saw what he called a “gap in the market.”

“I realized that Great Britain has had lots of alpine skiers, we’ve had lots of cross-country skiers, and we’ve had quite a few biathlon skiers — but we’d never had a ski jumper,” he said. “And I thought if I can crack this sport without cracking too many bones in the process, I might be able to do something with ski jumping.”

In 1988, Edwards, better known nowadays as “Eddie the Eagle,” competed in the Winter Olympics in Calgary. Despite finishing 58th out of 58 skiers, Edwards had become his country’s first ever Olympic ski jumper — he’d realized his dream.

Edwards shared his story last week with students at Whitefish High School. Standing in the high school gym, he detailed the long road he took to get to the Olympics and some of the difficulties and experiences that came with it. Edwards was the Grand Marshal of the Whitefish Winter Carnival and the inspiration for its theme of “Fly Like an Eagle.”

During this time in Whitefish, he signed autographs and skied at Whitefish Mountain Resort before appearing in Saturday’s Winter Carnival Grand Parade.

Edwards told students how he came to be Britain’s first ever Olympic ski jumper and the subject of a recent biographical film, “Eddie the Eagle.”

It started with a class trips to some dry-skiing slopes when he was 13 years old, he said.

As a dare, he tried his first jump, and subsequent visits to the ski hill became longer and longer days spent cruising downhill.

“Within about three months, skiing took over my whole life,” he said.

After graduating from high school, Edwards headed to the United States to ski in Lake Placid.

In just one afternoon at Lake Placid, he told students, he’d gone from the lowest jump to the highest jump the employees would let him attempt.

After moving back to the United Kingdom, Edwards realized the opportunities ski jumping offered him. He traveled to Kandersteg, Switzerland to train, and learned a variety of lessons during his time there.

For one, he learned frugality.

Edwards recalled weeks of sleeping in his car and eating minimally to save money for skiing in Kandersteg. At times, he resorted to picking scraps from the dumpsters.

He also learned the value of support from others.

At the time, Edwards was a novice jumper with old, severely outdated equipment launching off these jumps without guidance.

When other teams trained in Kandersteg, they left their mark on Eddie the Eagle too.

Edwards said slowly, his career came together with the help of those friends — one by one, pieces of equipment would be replaced by donations from other countries, and along the way he’d pick up training tips as well.

“Without all that help, from all those different countries, I would not have been able to make the Olympic games,” he said.

After Kandersteg, Edwards competed in various locations, including the European Cup and the World Cup, before traveling to Calgary for the Olympics.

He picked up some major injuries in his time as a ski jumper too, he told students.

One particularly bad crash left him with a broken jaw, which he treated with a pillow duct-taped around his head for several days. Another fall broke several vertebrae in his head and neck. In fact, there’s only a few bones in his body that haven’t been cracked, but there’s still time, he added with a laugh.

“You land every time,” he said. “You just don’t land on your feet every time.”

Despite the ups and downs of his career, Edwards said he never once felt like giving up. He’s still excited to wear skis as he was the first time he put them on, and when he talks about his accomplishments his grin shows a sense of pride in himself.

“It was my dream to get to those Olympic games. It’s been a dream of mine since I was about eight years old to represent my country at the Olympic games. I didn’t know that I was going to do it ski jumping, that was the way it turned out, and to realize my dream,” he told students.

“If you have a dream, if you have an ambition, you hold on to that. And who knows, it might just come true.”

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