Eddie the Eagle has an ambivalent reputation in the British psyche. As a boy, I remember the Press sneering at him and implying he was in some way an embarrassment for Britain, or painting him as a kind of likeable buffoon worthy of a comedy mention, but little else – a cringeworthy footnote in the history of the Winter Olympics.
Going to his talk at the King’s Theatre, Southsea, on 27th May 2017, I didn’t know what to expect, but suspected it might easily be the forced story of a wannabe inspirational speaker. That, I guess, was the cynical pressmen at work, even after all these years.
In fact, Eddie the Eagle’s story of how he got to the Calgary Olympics in 1988 to become Britain’s first Olympic ski-jumper since 1929 is a tale of a young man so in love with his sport and so determined to get there that he was willing to go through extreme hardship to make his dream come true. And all the while he did it, he regarded the setbacks, the knocks, the poverty and the pain as something to shrug off because it was worth every moment of it. Only at the end of the night, when he plays footage of ski-jumpers involved in horrifying accidents does the real danger he exposed himself to in pursuit of his dream came through. His talk, Try Hard, was genuinely uplifting – and I have seen many speakers over the years telling their stories of success.
So, here are fourteen things I learned from Eddie the Eagle Edwards:
- Eddie came from a background with no advantages when it came to making it to the Olympics. His dad was a builder with little money, and he was born with a birth defect meaning he had to have his legs straightened in plaster casts – much like the old style pictures you see of kids in calipers.
- Eddie fell in love with skiing when he was a kid on a school trip, and his love of the sport took over his life. He did his very first jump across a road on that first trip and began to jump friends, cars and trucks for charity as his skill grew.
- As a boy, he beat the members of the All-England squad at races in the UK and was asked to join the team. He lasted for one morning, when the class-ridden prejudices of the squad led to him, a lowly working class kid in secondhand kit, being dropped from the team despite his obvious talent.
- He pushed on and ignored the prejudice – opting for the ski-jump option when he realised there was no GB team and hence no competition, and that it might be a way of entering the Olympics more cheaply.
- He broke his neck and back in a race with a rival skier after losing control, flying through the air and landing on his rival. The prize for the race was to take a woman out for dinner. The rival skier did so and married her, while Eddie got 6 weeks’ traction for his efforts.
- He did his first ski-jump at Lake Placid in the USA, using discarded kit left in a hut by other skiers.
- He went from a 5 metre jump to a 40 metre jump in the space of an afternoon under his own steam – a progression that usually takes years of training with a coach.
- His first helmet was tied on with string, and later popped off when he did the 90 metre jumps.
- His kit early on was provided by donations from teams from across Europe who saw him struggling while training with low quality equipment.
- To feed himself while training in Switzerland, he took food from the bins at the Scout house where he was staying and recooked it after the scouts had finished eating. Custard and gravy, he says, is delicious.
- In the build-up to Calgary he broke his jaw in a jump. With no insurance, he tied a pillowcase around his head to bind his jaw and carried on jumping – holding his face when he landed to keep his bones in place.
- He had to pay for his own flight to the Winter Olympics, working in the hotel where he was training with the US team in Steamboat Springs in order to buy his air fare.
- His absolute love of his sport is infectious, and he is really a likeable guy who simply tells his story with no pretentiousness – it simply is a tale of something he had to do.
- Eddie lands on his feet with this talk. It’s not the story of someone reaching the pinnacle of success in the eyes of the public, but setting his own standard of what he wanted to achieve, and going for it with every part of his soul. It’s a story of bravery, of joy, resilience and dogged determination. He is well worth hearing.
I am so glad I was impressed! It’s a recommend.