Entrepreneur, philanthropist and athlete, the multi-talented Mike Edwards is a force to be reckoned with. Taking gold at the British Indoor Championships earlier this year, he took time out from his training in the run-up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games where he was set to make history as the first high-jumper to represent Nigeria in over 50 years. He shared with us why he had chosen to represent Nigeria, how he finds time to chill and why he celebrated his British Indoor Championship win with a cigar.
You're an athlete, businessman and philanthropist - what would you like your legacy to be?
I’d want my legacy to live on throughout all my work and creations. I’m not going to be sportsman for ever though. I can always be a business man - being an entrepreneur has always been my calling.
And we hear you model too! With such a busy schedule, how often do you have time for you and what do you do during that downtime?
I like to travel, my quiet times are often spent on planes, trains, and automobiles. I use this time for creativity, the travelling keeps me dreamy.
We were born and raised in London but through our grandmother and mother we grew up in a Nigerian household. Where did you grow up and what is your own Nigeria story?
My dad is from Jamaica and my mother from Nigeria. I was born in Moss Side, Manchester but then moved to Florida at age 9/10. My Nigerian grandmother died before I was born so most of my history was past down from my mother and aunties.
So you could have competed for UK, USA, Jamaica or Nigeria. What made you choose the Green, White, Green jersey?
Jamaica was an option. But I found Nigeria more intriguing. For so many years Nigeria’s male high jumpers have been absent on the global stage in athletics. I want to change that, and inspire the next wave of athletes along the way...in other words – ‘For the Culture’!
Four years ago you were watching the Commonwealth games on TV - and now you're going to be competing in it. That's such an amazing story! Can you tell us a bit about that journey and the challenges you may have faced?
Basketball is my first love but it was high jumping that took me to university on a scholarship. I started my professional athletics career in 2014 after completing my Marketing degree at university.
I was still struggling just to pay rent at the time as most non-funded athletes have to work and train to make a living. My first year was a challenge. Athletics is a cut throat sport and there aren’t many of us who are contracted to Adidas or Nike. I worked 3 part-time jobs, and still managed to train twice a day. I finished last place that year at the British Indoor Championship – not a promising start leading up to the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
A long story short, I didn’t make the Commonwealth Games that year, instead I watched on TV. Fast-forward a year later, I launched my company – Aireyys – I quit working the other 3 jobs, and fell in love with my beautiful Queen Perri Shakes-Drayton. God’s Plan!
Indeed! And we're looking forward to cheering you on in Australia. And shout out to Perri who will be there too.
You've already started 2018 with a bang by winning your first British title earlier this year. What was the feeling like when you stepped on top of the podium?
Stepping on top of the podium at the British Championships felt like the scene from Pursuit of happiness when Will Smith finally gets his job (yea that part)
To be honest, going into the season I wasn't even planning to compete in the indoor. But I had to prove fitness for Nigeria, so I could join their Commonwealth team. I had won the bronze and silver before, so to win gold this time I couldn't have scripted it any better way.
How did you get started with Aireyys - and what does the name mean?
I always felt like I had a personal brand and over time I discovered how to tap into it. In 2014 beards was a powerful movement, so I carefully crafted my own line of beard oils and put it on the market. I now have a variety of different blends available on the website. Every 6 months to a year, we release something new. Less than a year ago, I launched Britain’s first black-owned cigar line. For every cigar sold provides clean drinking water to people in need around the world. We’ve also just released a line of African-inspired cigars.
The name Aireyys is completely made up - however the brand stands for Dark Horse - a candidate or competitor about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds.
So, will you be taking the cigars out with you to Australia?
Absolutely, I take my cigars with me everywhere. It’s my business.
You describe yourself as The People's Champion - why?
The People's Champ is one who provides invaluable service to the community. If I win we all win. “As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” - Marianne Williamson
If you went back to Moss Side, Manchester and met a little Mike, what would you like to tell him?
I’d shower my younger self with encouragement and self confidence, because at a younger age growing in Moss Side, I was never recognised as a bright student. I was mostly viewed as a problem child, and I started to believe it. I’m a big believer in highlighting the positives in our youth instead of concentrating on the negatives too much.
If you did a Naija-style Come Dine With Me, which three dinner guests would you invite and what dishes would be on the menu?
Excuse my ignorance I don’t watch much reality TV so I'm not familiar on “come dine with me” However, if I’m going to invite three dinner guest Naija-style I’d love to sit down and break bread...pounded yam and soup... with the Nigerian Women's Olympic Bobsled Team.
We were brought up to believe "Manners Makyth Man" - what do you see as the key qualities to being a gentleman?
I’d say the key qualities are having a kind heart and correct ethos. It could be as simple as holding the door open to someone in need, or helping a mother carry a pram or buggy downstairs. These acts are gentle but can reflect a man’s character.
Lastly, any tips for our entrepreneurial chop-chat-chillers out there?
Go with your instinct. Remember, it takes 3 years to create an overnight success. And sometimes it's great to work in the dark.
Unfortunately Mike's dreams were stopped in their tracks by the IAAF, as the Federation have refused to approve his transfer of allegiance to Nigeria. At the time of publishing, it waits to be seen whether the ban will be lifted before the high-jumping heats begin.