Few people have achieved fame for coming in last place.
That is why Michael Edwards, or “Eddie the Eagle”, became a rather unexpected hero. Unlike most athletes, Eddie did not come to the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics Games hoping to win a medal, he came simply to compete. In doing so, he accomplished his dream.
The 2016 film “Eddie the Eagle” is inspired by his incredible story, which I will briefly summarize for any who are unfamiliar with him.
Eddie had a dream to compete in the Olympics. Unable to make the British Ski Squad, Eddie opted for the riskiest of options, ski jumping. No British skier had ever competed in that sport, but lacking any competitors meant that Eddie had a better chance of qualifying for the 1988 Olympic Games. It also meant there was no support in place for him, material, moral, or otherwise, and none would be forthcoming from the British Olympic Association, which was rather uncooperative in his venture.
Eddie lacked a coach, equipment, and sponsorship, but what he had in abundance was determination.
Undeterred by what he lacked, Eddie haphazardly set out to learn his chosen sport, funding and training himself for nearly two years. Defying the odds, he managed to meet the qualifications for Olympic ski jumping, landing himself in the 1988 Olympic Games.
Eddie was not necessarily popular with other ski jumpers, nor members of various Olympic associations, as many resented his novice status and felt that he was mocking the sport and the games. Eddie did not look like the other athletes, did not grow up competing as an athlete, and did not fit the expectations of an Olympic Athlete.
However, what his competitors and the Olympic establishment disliked about him was, ironically, what endeared him to fans; his modest background, his borrowed equipment, his thick glasses, and most of all his sheer bravery and resolve to compete in such a daring sport among others who grew up ski jumping.
Eddie was determined to compete, and while he came in last by a long shot, he did manage to land his jumps, and he still holds the British record in that sport. Coming in last place actually ingratiated him further to his fans, who viewed him as the improbable star of the Olympics and the true embodiment of the Olympic spirit.
I was rather young during the 1988 Olympics, but I do recall hearing about Eddie the Eagle and how his unusual story added to the Olympic excitement that year. As an adult, I did a bit of research on Eddie, and I began to see for myself why his story was so compelling.
Many of us can relate to him in our own way: seeing him chase his Olympic dream was inspirational on a personal level to his fans. He came from a working-class background, which meant that he did not have the same young exposure to elite sports as his competitors.
Many of us may have experienced similar limitations during our own youth that prevented us from pursuing our dreams. Furthermore, if the barriers to following our dreams were removed we may have been told that it was too late for us to start.
Eddie’s rejection from the British ski squad is another aspect of his story that many of us can relate to.
Rejection can be devastating, whether it is personal, hobby, or career related, and we may struggle to find the courage to put ourselves back out there, or the creativity to find another way.
Another reason many of us can relate to Eddie is that we may also lack support in pursuing our goals, especially if others do not believe in us. However, Eddie did not stop believing him himself, and his determination to pursue his dream won him the adoration of many fans, even if it did not win him an Olympic medal.
Stricter rules created after the 1988 Calgary Games meant that Eddie would never compete in the Olympics again, although he did carry a torch for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.
After a long hiatus from jumping, Eddie returned to Calgary in March of 2017 in order to take some jumps with aspiring young ski jumpers. While he opted not to take the 90-meter jump, hundreds of fans came to the park to cheer him on as he jumped off the 18, 38, and 70-meter jumps. His jumps may not have been remarkable, but he humbly captivated the crowd, just as he did 29 years ago. Witnessing Eddie that day, how he managed to brave those jumps, how he interacted with his fans, led me to reflect on how he still continues to inspire a new generation.
Why is the story of someone who came in last place, who failed to win, so compelling?
For many of us, Eddie’s story is not the story of a loser, it is the story of someone who dared to follow their dreams. It is the story of taking risks, even if no one supports you or believes in you, even if the establishment is against you. His determination and courage are what originally owed his fans, and what continues to.
Many of us may not be aspiring Olympic athletes, but we could still use Eddie’s example to boldly follow our own dreams. Our own dreams may be to pursue a change of career, start our own business, pursue a hobby, make a lifestyle change, or make a personal change.
Some of our dreams may seem more attainable, others more daunting. Regardless of what our individual dreams may be, what often prevents our pursuit of them is fear. It may be fear of what people might think of us, fear what our dreams might cost us, or worst of all, fear that we might fail.
I can relate in my own way to Eddie’s adventure through my dream of being a dancer.
Dance is such an instinctive human expression, something that we feel moved to, whether that happens to a toddler, after a couple drinks in the bar, or perhaps in our bedroom listening to our favourite music. I did not have a formal dance background, nor do I come from a family or community of dancers.
When I wanted to learn ballet as a child I was told that I was already too old, so I reluctantly put that dream aside and never pursued dance classes.
However, in high school I had the opportunity to try belly dance (or oriental dance) when a new instructor moved to my small town. I only knew belly dance from movies, which tend to portray it as a somewhat obscure form of dance, but I always felt intrigued by it. From the first class I immediately fell in love with it. The body awareness it imparted, the femininity of the movements. I discovered yoga a bit later, so belly dance was actually my first foray into body-mind connection, and paying attention to your breath as you move.
A few years ago, after spending a time living abroad and practicing latin dance, I felt inspired to sign up for another belly dance session. Finally, I found the instructor I had sought, and from my first class with her I was hooked again. For the first time, I remained committed to dance classes, slowly growing in my skill and dedication.
My belly dance practice had always been a private affair, so when my instructor suggested that my group perform in her studio’s annual show, I felt terrified. How could I perform in public, especially since I only took up dance as an adult?
I was terrified being in the public eye, certain that I would freeze, or make a mistake. Dancing seemed even more intimidating! What would happen if I did make a mistake or I froze? What would people think? What would that do to my confidence?
In spite of my fears, I decided that for the love of dance I would commit to the performance. Standing backstage before the show I felt ill, and was positive that I might actually become ill during the performance.
Surprisingly I did not, and at some point I was actually able to forget about the audience and get into the zone. That moment when your body and the music come together to make you forget about everything. The rush I felt from performing was incredible, but also the feeling of accomplishment, succeeding or winning at something I put my mind into doing.
Unlike Eddie, I was fortunate to have the support of an encouraging instructor, as well as the other dancers in my class, which is probably what prevented me from fleeing the stage in fear! Since that first performance, I have had the opportunity to continue performing with my dance studio.
In the performances, I have done since that first one I have learned that sometimes I will make a mistake onstage, and if so then I quickly correct it and pick up where I left off, so the dance goes on. The audience rarely notices; it is only a big deal to the dancer.
Now that I understand that mistakes are not so distressing, I am not as scared to perform as I used to be, although I still do get some jitters. Now I have also taken up ballet and flamenco, refusing to let myself be limited by what others say is the appropriate age to study dance.
We can all apply Eddie’s story to our own lives by being determined in the face of our fears and not allowing them to deter us. We build courage every time we push past our fears, and by doing so we get closer to our dreams.
Eddie never gave up on his Olympic dream in spite of not making the British ski squad, and he had to face many daunting ski jumps to qualify.
If I did not push past my fear during that first performance, and the ones after that, I would not have experienced my dream of dancing.
It is not too late to follow our dreams. Just as Eddie started ski jumping as a young man, I only started performing in my 30s.
He demonstrates that we have to define what winning or attainment means to us because we do not have to use the same definition that others do. Eddie did not plan on winning at the Olympics, but he was content to compete.
I have defined my own level of success, or winning, based on my own level of dance and experience and I do not have the same expectations of myself as other dancers do.
Lastly, Eddie humbly shows us that we do not always need to seek inspiration from who society perceives as winners.
What dream can you pursue using Eddie’s inspiration?
Author: Lana Gonzalez
Editor: Sara Karpanen