Around Osceola
Osceola News-Gazette

Follow Us On:

Former PHS grad jumps on international stage

Posted on Saturday, March 10, 2018 at 6:00 am

Edwards was state champ 3 months after learning high jump

By Ken Jackson
Sports Editor

It’s been over a decade since Mike Edwards was a track state champion for Poinciana High School, but the 27-year-old has kept right on jumping.

Edwards, who won Class 4A gold for the Eagles in the high jump in 2006 — his first year competing in track and field — turned leaping over the bar into a collegiate and professional career, and is now on the international stage.

After finally winning the high jump at last month’s British Athletics Indoor Championships with a leap of 7-3 (2.2 meters), Edwards qualified to compete at the Commonwealth Games in April in Queensland, Australia.

Competing in the “Commonwealths”, an Olympic-style competition involving athletes from the Commonwealth of Nations, an organization of formerly territories of the British Empire, is a big deal to Edwards, who was born in Manchester, England.

In Australia he’ll compete under the green-and-white flag of Nigeria, honoring his mother’s heritage (his father is Jamaican, also a former British commonwealth), after years of competing under Great Britain’s Union Jack.

He said his change of allegiance is “to serve a greater good.”

“It’s given me a platform to step up for my heritage, a bigger cause,” he said, also noting that Nigeria has not had a high jumper in international competition in some 50 years. “I’ve been very proud to represent Great Britain, but a certain urge is pulling me to represent Nigeria, a purpose outside my sport.”

Here’s what’s crazy: Edwards had only played basketball before then-Eagles’ track coach Rusty Gould suggested Edwards try long jumping with the team in 2006.

“I had a great relationship with (PHS basketball coach) Jay Lunce, and after their season I asked the kids on his team if they wanted to try some track events, just to improve their agility and quickness,” Gould said. “I asked Mike what he wanted to accomplish. He said, ‘I want to jump better to get better at dunking.’ That was a tailor-made response for the high jump.

“Out of five or six basketball guys that came out, he was the only one who stuck with it and got better and better. Less than three months after taking it up, he was a state champion.”

Edwards said he enjoyed high jumping from day one.

“My whole career started with those early successes, and 2006 was the start. It’s similar to what I’m embarking on now,” he said.

After Edwards, who stands 6-6, competed twice more at the state track meet, he continued to compete at a very high level. He signed a scholarship to compete at the University of Alabama, but after a redshirt year, his coach retired and he landed at Louisville, where he was the 2012 Big East Conference high jump champion.

That year he began trying to earn a spot on the Britain’s World Junior Track and Field Championships team, beginning his international career. While competing internationally he returned to Florida, and won two NAIA national championships at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.

In 2012 he also attempted to qualify for the Olympics, held that year in London, but he was eight centimeters (about 3.1 inches) from jumping a qualifying height — “way off” as he put it.

He moved back to England in 2014 to focus on British events, and went from finishing near the bottom of the standings in that year’s national championships to earning a bronze medal in 2015 after taking on Robbie Grabarz, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the high jump, as a training partner.

In 2016 he won the bronze medal in the British championships and again attempted to qualify for the Olympics, missing this time by only three centimeters (“Close but no cigar,” he said).

He again was the silver medalist in the 2017 national championships but switching this year to compete in indoor track and field, where he finally won gold on Feb. 19 with a high jump of 2.2 meters, roughly 7-3. (For comparison, he won the 2006 high school meet at 6-8.)

“I wasn’t going to do an indoor season this year,” Edwards said. “The chance to compete for Nigeria was a factor in that.”

Later this month he’ll travel from England to Kansas State University to work with new coach Cliff Rovelto to train for the Commonwealth Games before heading to Australia to compete April 9-11. His personal best in high jump is 7 feet, 4 ½ inches, which he hopes to top in the Games, where he admits he’s an underdog to medal.

“It will be a battle, but I’m going up against a field that has something to lose,” Edwards said. “I have nothing to lose as an athlete nobody’s really looking at.”

Beyond those games, he said he’ll listen to his body to map out the rest of his career. He sees himself taking a shot at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and wants to still compete at age 31, when the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be in Birmingham, England.

Meanwhile, he’s mapped out another endeavor outside of athletics, with his involvement as CEO of Aireyys Limited, a proclaimed “global brand tailored for Bearded Gentleman,” which sells beard-care products and upscale cigars, from which portions of the proceeds go toward providing clean drinking water in developing nations.

And, guess who’s a fan of the product line? Ol’ Rusty Gould, who is now a Horizon Middle School assistant principal.

“I’ve tried the cigars, I’ve used the beard oil,” he said. “Whenever he’s back in Florida to train, I’ve had him and his fiancé (also a British track athlete) to the house for dinner. We’ve kept in contact, I got to see him win the Big East, and he’s been to my school to talk to kids about following their dreams. He was only here a few years, but whenever I’m around the guy he’s looking for ways to contribute.”