Michael Edgson once met the world’s most famous hockey dad, Walter Gretzky, who told him something the Nanaimo-raised Paralympic swimmer never forgot.
“Those who are truly great need not talk about it,” the elder Gretzky said. The message was simple: if you’re great, you’re great—you don’t need to broadcast to the world about it.
Edgson was great. And he lived Walter’s words. However, for just a moment we’re going to break his humble rule and talk a little about one of Canada’s greatest Paralympic athletes of all time.
Born in Vancouver, Edgson grew up largely in Nanaimo. While his earliest memory is chasing a bucket of pucks at the town’s Frank Crane Arena, Edgson also played soccer and gymnastics while young. He credits his parents with remarkable courage for allowing their visually impaired son to try many impact sports some may have considered too risky.
Edgson’s start in the pool came at age twelve with the Nanaimo Riptides swim team under coach Les Bogdan. One day early on, Edgson’s father came to watch at the Beban Park Recreation Centre. The elder Edgson saw a young boy bumping into walls, getting lapped, and swimming out of his lane and thought maybe swimming wasn’t such a good idea for his son. That is, until young Michael came up and said hello—Mr. Edgson had been watching the wrong boy. Young Michael was one lane over and swimming just fine.
In fact, Edgson’s love for the water was almost immediate. It always remained one environment in which he felt totally comfortable and confident. By age fourteen—barely two years after he’d first plunged in—he was already representing Canada internationally. While competing for the University of Victoria, he often swam against able-bodied swimmers, more than holding his own.
Anyone who came in contact with Edgson—including key coaching influences Mike Blondal, Dr. Peter Vizsolyi, and Ron Jacks—all marveled at his tenacious and uncompromising nature in the water. He loved to win, surpassed only by his disdain to lose. His focus every time in the pool was simple: to get faster than he currently was. The crazy thing is he usually did.
Nearly twenty years since his retirement, Edgson ranks as the most decorated Paralympic athlete in Canadian history. Competing in the B3 category for athletes with visual acuity lower than 20/200, over his twelve-year career (1981-92) Edgson represented Canada at three Paralympic Games (1984, 1988, 1992) and compiled a remarkable twenty-one Paralympic medals, including a Michael Phelps-like eighteen gold.
Combined with world championship competitions, Edgson won thirty-two individual medals and set more than twenty world records. After winning a remarkable nine Paralympic medals and setting four world records at the 1988 Seoul Paralympics, Edgson was selected as Canada’s flag bearer at the Closing Ceremony. In 1992, he was a finalist with Mark Tewksbury and Mark McKoy for the Norton H. Crowe Award for Canada’s Male Athlete of the Year.
After his swimming career, Edgson was part of the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games Society responsible for the field of play of the swimming competition. Later Edgson continued to contribute to sport in Canada as a Canadian Paralympic Committee director.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.