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If there was a message that one of Britain’s best-loved Olympians wanted people to take away from his packed talk in Lochaber this week, it was follow your dream and do whatever it takes to make it come true.
In Michael ‘Eddie the Eagle’ Edwards’ case, that meant sleeping in his mum’s car while training in Switzerland, raking food out of hotel dustbins and even once sleeping in a Finnish mental hospital to save money.
Eddie landed at the Moorings Hotel in Banavie to give one of his motivational talks as the star turn on day one of this year’s Lochaber Ideas Week on Monday.
Spread over two hours, he regaled the audience with his now well-known tale of how he went from being a plaster in his home town of Cheltenham to the Calgary Winter Olympics of 1988, despite having next to no money, no coach, no equipment and no team.
Great Britain had never competed in ski jumping but Eddie was nothing if not determined and he was determined to be an Olympian.
And he would do anything to keep on jumping – including tying a pillowcase round his head to keep a broken jaw in place as he couldn’t afford medical treatment abroad.
‘I had to suck soup through a straw for two weeks, but I continued jumping and a week later I competed in my first World Cup event,’ he said.
And that is the mistake people make about him, as this week’s event in Banavie underlined – it was never about medals, it was all about becoming an Olympian. And while the Eagle only managed to flap his way to 58th place out of 59 jumpers in Calgary, he made his dream come true through a combination of stubborness, unwavering self-belief and sheer guts.
It was on a school trip to Italy that he first experienced the slopes and less that four years later, he was on the British Alpine Team.
‘I’d always loved watching Ski Sunday but I’d never thought I would be good enough to represent my country at a sport. But in the end my face didn’t fit and they kicked me off the team,’ he explained.
At that time, travelling to events abroad was very expensive and Eddie’s parents did not have much money.
Looking round to see how else he could get himself to the Olympics, Eddie, whose story was immortalised in a 2016 movie starring Hugh Jackman, realised that Britain had no ski jumpers.
It was the kindness of fellow winter sports athletes with donations of kit, food and even little bits of coaching advice, which helped him qualify for Calgary.
Forty years on and Eddie says he is still as excited to pull on skis today as he was then: ‘If you have a dream, a goal or an ambition, hang on to it. It might just take some time. ‘
Now divorced, he has two young daughters and still lives near Cheltenham.
Since Calgary, his life has been filled with the celebrity circuit including becoming a pop star in Finland.
These days much of his time is taken up travelling the world as an ambassador for ski holiday companies and winter sport organisations, although he has kept his hand in with the plastering just in case the celebrity life all comes to an end.
Following the event, Eddie told The Lochaber Times: ‘That was great, really nice. They were a lovely responsive audience.’
‘I’m hoping I can inspire people – you know, I’m a plasterer and I started quite late in the sport, but that didn’t stop me doing what I wanted to do and achieving my dreams.’
Eddie the Eagle helped light up the first day of Lochaber Ideas Week 2018. Picture: Iain Ferguson, The Write Image.
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