Five Life Lessons We Can Learn from Eddie the Eagle

No matter your dream or your big ideas, you can make them a reality. All you need to do is learn from someone who has done just that – meet Michael ‘Eddie the Eagle’ Edwards.

Eddie the Eagle was an inspirational ski jumper, despite his Olympic results

“You have broken world records and you have established personal bests. Some of you have even soared like an eagle.”

Frank King, CEO/President of the Organizing Committee, Calgary, 1988

February, 1988. Calgary, Canada. Over 1,400 athletes from 57 countries around the world gathered to compete in the 15th Winter Olympic Games. 

Over a period of 15 days, 148 medals would be won in 46 sports and, for the most part, these would be won by athletes from Olympic and Winter Sport superpowers – the Soviet Union, East Germany, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and more.

And yet, as with any Winter or Summer Olympic Games, there were stories that transcend the sport itself. 

These are the stories that people remember long after the Olympic flame is extinguished and last for countless Olympic cycles. Stories such as these inspire future generations to take up sports they would never have dared to dream of competing in. 

The stories teach us things about life and the power that we have to do the unexpected. 

One such story from the 1988 Winter Olympics is that of Michael ‘Eddie the Eagle’ Edwards.

Success from Failure

Along with the now famous Jamaican Men’s Bobsleigh Team, Eddie the Eagle was seen as something of a side-show to the main event in the Men’s Ski Jumping. 

And yet, when people talk about ski jumping in the UK, or mention the Winter Olympics in 1988, few can name anyone who won the medals in the events, let alone the names of other competitors.

From the point of view of finishing position or medals, Edwards’ performance could never be described as a success. But when taken from the point of view of inspiring others, leaving a lasting legacy and achieving dreams through sheer hard work and determination, there’s no doubt that Edwards was, and still is, an unqualified success.

So, when we look through the second lens at Edwards’ life and journey to being the UK’s first (and last) Olympic Ski Jumper, what life lessons can we all take away?

Eddie the Eagle making Olympic history!

Be Persistent, Be Determined

Michael Edwards (the name Eddie was given to him by his friends) originally started out as a downhill skier and by all accounts was a very good one. And yet, he realised that as good as he was, he was never going to achieve his dream of competing in the Olympics in this sport. 

So he switched to ski jumping, purely on the basis that he had seen it, and there was no-one he needed to compete with for a place in the Olympic team. 

For anyone without Edwards’ persistence and determination, the dream would have ended before it even began. Physically very different from other ski jumpers – around 10kg heavier than his competitors and extremely far-sighted – Edwards also had to overcome the challenge of being completely self-funded, borrowing equipment from his coaches and other ski jumpers as he didn’t have his own.

But Edwards never gave up, training and practising in order to reach the qualifying standards and convince the British Olympic Association (BOA) to put him forward for a place.

Be Resilient

Everyone who has had a dream, or a Big Idea, and tried to put it into action will have come across doubters along the way. The thing that makes people successful, and the great stand out from the rest, is resilience and belief in themselves and their dream.

Throughout his career and beyond, Edwards was the punchline of many a joke (even being referred to as Mr Magoo by other athletes) due to his appearance. He also had a relatively poor record in his chosen discipline, only qualifying for the Olympics by finishing 55th in the 1987 World Championships.

But he put himself through a gruelling, and often dangerous, training regime to reach the Games and then make the most of his shot. Without belief and resilience, few people would continue in a sport that caused them such bodily harm:

“I fractured my skull twice, I broke my jaw, broke my collar bone, smashed my collar bone, broke three ribs, damaged my kidney, damaged my knee, damaged my ribs and all sorts of stuff”.

Be Innovative

It might not be the first thing that springs to mind, but Edwards was extremely innovative in his approach to the sport and getting around his funding challenges. Edwards freely admits that he switched to ski jumping because “it was cheaper” than downhill skiing. Without funding, he had to drive around Europe in his mum’s car to attend practice and events.

A plasterer by trade and without financial backing or personal wealth, Edwards was often forced to take on part-time jobs to pursue his dream. Baby-sitting, cutting grass and working in hotels were all part of his experience, and looking to save money where he could, he even stayed in a Finnish mental hospital while training with the Finnish ski jumping team in the run up to the Games.

It just goes to show that it’s not always the road well travelled that leads you to your dreams!

Watch Eddie the Eagle in action

It’s as much about the journey as the end point

All of this demonstrates that there were plenty of opportunities for Edwards to give up, but he never did. 

Even without a penny to his name, he continued to work and train with other jumpers around the world, just to make sure he could get to the start line. He set out with his end goal in mind and stuck to his plans, no matter the cost or how brutally hard it was for him.

Ultimately Edwards finished last in both of his events and never qualified again for the Winter Olympics. And yet, so many people see his journey as a measure of success, in line with the spirit and concept of the first Olympic Games. 

Reflecting on this, Edwards freely admits that it was never about winning, but that just getting there was “his gold medal”.

It’s not just about you, so inspire others

Despite being the butt of jokes and despite all the setbacks, barriers, obstacles, and hard knocks, Edwards never gave up and never gave less than 100% along the way. 

He is, and always will be, an Olympian (and how many of us can say that?!), and he has inspired people to take up new sports and try to follow his path.

Edwards is also an inspiration for people to push themselves out of their comfort zone. After giving up competitive ski jumping, he became the world number 9 in amateur speed skiing, is a qualified ski instructor, patron of the Ski 4 Cancer charity, has had a movie made about his life, and even had a successful pop career in Finland.

It may not have been his intention, but Michael ‘Eddie The Eagle’ Edwards had a dream and proved the people wrong who said it couldn’t be done. And isn’t that inspiration enough?

Want to hear how Michael “Eddie The Eagle” Edwards’ can inspire you, and other procurement professionals, to push outside of your comfort zone? Eddie The Eagle will be part of our Big Ideas Summit in London this 9 March. Secure your spot today, tickets are limited.