Michael Edgson, swimmer (born 6 May 1969 in North Vancouver, BC). Edgson won 20 medals at the Paralympic Games from 1984 to 1992, and 10 gold medals at the World Swimming Championships for the Physically Disabled. Edgson also holds the Canadian record for most Paralympic gold medals in a career (17) and the most Paralympic gold medals at a single Paralympic Games (9), which was set at the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul. In 2015, he was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

Childhood and Disability

Although born in North Vancouver, Michael Edgson spent much of his childhood in Nanaimo, British Columbia. As an infant, he had been prescribed a medication that damaged his optic nerves; as a result, he lost the majority of his vision.

Despite his vision impairment, Edgson's parents, George and Sylvia, allowed him to participate in soccer and hockey as a young child. However, he gave up both sports, as he was unable to see the ball or puck (unless it was immediately in front of him), and could not clearly differentiate between team members and opponents. Edgson had more success in gymnastics, but gave this up because of arthritis in his wrists and joints.

Swimming

In 1981, Michael Edgson’s parents enrolled him in swimming at the Beban Park Recreation Centre in Nanaimo.

The 11-year-old Edgson was a natural in the pool, surprising his parents. At one of his first swimming classes, his father became quite concerned as he watched a swimmer struggling in the pool, bumping into walls and unable to swim inside his lane. However, George Edgson had been watching another swimmer — a mistake he only realized when his son came up to greet him.

In fact, Edgson quickly excelled in the pool, and soon joined the Nanaimo Riptides swim team coached by Les Bogdan. At age 12, Edgson became a member of the British Columbia Blind Sports and Recreation Association, which allowed him to compete at the Canadian Blind Sports Association National Swimming Championships. At the 1982 national championship in Calgary, Alberta, Edgson won seven medals, including one gold medal.

However, Edgson did not just compete against swimmers with disabilities. In 1982, he also qualified for his first British Columbia Swimming Championship and for the Canadian Youth National Swimming Championship.

1984 International Games for the Disabled

Michael Edgson’s first success on the international stage came at age 15, when he won four gold medals at the 1984 International Games for the Disabled (now known as the Paralympic Games) in Long Island, New York.

Competing in the B3 classification (athletes with partial sight), Edgson won the gold medal in the 100m butterfly, 200m individual medley, 400m individual medley and B1–B3 4x100m medley relay. He also won silver medals in the 100m backstroke and the B1–B3 4x100m freestyle relay.

Edgson also set world records in the men’s 100m butterfly (1:05.32) and men’s 400m individual medley (5:28.40) and was part of the Canadian team in the B1–B3 4x100m medley relay that set a world record (4:42.81).

1988 Paralympic Games

In 1988, the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games were held in the same city for the first time since 1964. Seoul, South Korea, hosted the world’s best athletes with a disability from 15 to 24 October, only two weeks after hosting the 1988 Olympic Games.

According to Michael Edgson, the Games provided an opportunity to put Canadian amateur sport in a positive light. At the time, international sports media was still focused on the controversy surrounding the Ben Johnson drug scandal, which had been swirling since the men’s Olympic 100m event a few weeks earlier.

Edgson delivered a Canadian record by winning nine gold medals at the 1988 Paralympic Games and set world records in the 100m backstroke (1:07.97), 100m butterfly (1:02.20) and 200m individual medley (2:21.70). He also won gold medals in the 100m freestyle, 400m individual medley, 400m freestyle, 50m freestyle, B1–B3 4x100m medley relay and B1–B3 4x100m freestyle relay.

Edgson’s achievement was particularly impressive, as he won nine gold medals in nine events. The Canadian Paralympic Committee recognized Edgson’s triumph by naming him Canada’s flag bearer for the Games’ closing ceremonies.

In a 2015 interview with Canadian sportswriter Jim Morris for Swimming Canada, Edgson recalled the intense pressure and challenges of the 1988 Games: “You’d think out of nine events, the closer you got to the end, the easier it would be. It’s quite the opposite. The further I got, the tougher it got and the more stress to win.”

Upon returning to Canada, Edgson was a local hero and received the keys to the city of Nanaimo.

1992 Paralympic Games

Four years after his triumph at the 1988 Games, Michael Edgson won four more gold medals at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. He placed first in the 100m backstroke, the 100m butterfly, the 200m individual medley and the 400m individual medley; and once again set the world record in the men’s 200m individual medley (2:21.02).

Edgson also won the silver medal in the men’s 200m backstroke, but was disappointed to be beaten to the finish line by Noel Pedersen of Norway. “I got more pre-occupied with what the competitor beside me was doing than my own race,” he told Swimming Canada in 2015.

At the end of the 1992 swimming season, Edgson was a finalist for the Norton H. Crowe Award, which was presented annually to Canada’s top male amateur athlete. Edgson lost to fellow Canadian swimmer Mark Tewksbury, who won the gold medal in the men’s 100m backstroke at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Paralympic Medals

Year

Event

Medal

1984

100m Butterfly B3

Gold

1984

200m Individual Medley B3

Gold

1984

400m Individual Medley B3

Gold

1984

4X100m Medley Relay B1-B3

Gold

1984

100m Backstroke B3

Silver

1984

4X100m Freestyle Relay B1-B3

Silver

1988

50m Freestyle B3

Gold

1988

100m Backstroke B3

Gold

1988

100 m Butterfly B3

Gold

1988

100m Freestyle B3

Gold

1988

200m Individual Medley B3

Gold

1988

400m Freestyle B3

Gold

1988

400m Individual Medley B3

Gold

1988

4X100m Medley Relay B1-B3

Gold

1988

4x100m Freestyle Relay B1-B3

Gold

1992

100m Backstroke B3

Gold

1992

100m Butterfly B3

Gold

1992

200m Individual Medley B3

Gold

1992

400m Individual Medley B3

Gold

1992

200m Backstroke B3

Silver

Other Competitions

In addition to the Paralympic Games, Michael Edgson starred at other swimming competitions in North America and Europe. In 1985, one year after his first international competition, Edgson set five world records and won five gold medals at the Canadian Games for the Disabled in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. At the 1986 World Championships for the Disabled in Gothenburg, Sweden, Edgson won three gold medals. The following year, he won seven gold medals at the 1987 Can-Am Games for the Disabled in Uniondale, New York. In 1990, he won another seven gold medals at the World Championships for the Disabled in Assen, the Netherlands.

University of Victoria

Michael Edgson graduated from Nanaimo District Secondary High School and attended the University of Victoria. He was part of the University of Victoria Vikes swim team in 1987 and again from 1989 to 1991. He trained regularly with the Vikes’ varsity team and competed against their able-bodied swimmers, although he did not qualify for the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union National Swimming Championships. In 1993, Edgson graduated from the University of Victoria with a degree in organizational behaviour. He was inducted into the University of Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

Retirement

Michael Edgson stayed active in the swimming world after his retirement in 1992. He was a member of the organizational committee for the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Columbia, and made significant contributions in organizing the swimming competition. From 2009 to 2012, he was also the director of finance for the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

Edgson works as a financial and retirement planner for the Royal Bank of Canada in Richmond, British Columbia, and lives in nearby Delta with his wife and three children. He is also on the Board of Directors for Delta Gymnastics, and manages swim meets in British Columbia.

Honours

Michael Edgson was named British Columbia Athlete of the Year with a Disability in 1984, 1988 and 1990. He was the second athlete to win the award three times — wheelchair racer Rick Hansen won the award in 1979, 1980 and 1982.

In 2006, Edgson was inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame (since 2009, the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame), which honours Canadians with a disability who have made extraordinary contributions to society.

In 2009, Edgson was inducted into the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame and became the first Paralympic swimmer to be inducted into Swimming Canada’s Circle of Excellence. In 2011, he was inducted into the Canadian Paralympic Hall of Fame; in 2012 he was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in Vancouver. He became the first Paralympian to be inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.

Edgson received his highest personal honour in 2015, when he was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Upon learning of his induction, Edgson told Cleve Dheensaw of the Victoria Times Colonist, “this is the pinnacle…It’s the cherry on the cake.”

(See also In Conversation with Michael Edgson.)