THE promise of an ice cream in a cone at the age of eight triggered her love for badminton.
And now, having competed in two Olympic Games, Cape Town schoolteacher Michelle Edwards is restringing her racquets in preparation for the third.
Growing up in Durban, the 38-year-old teacher said she was introduced to the sport when a badminton coach who stayed in her block of flats bribed her with an ice cream in return for a practice session.
“I would play a game on condition that I got a cone. And that’s simply how my love for the game started,” she said this week after she and her partner, Annari Viljoen, qualified at number 42 in the world rankings and first at the Africa Championships for this year’s London Olympics.
Three years after first picking up a racquet and shuttlecock, Edwards joined a club called Tech at the KwaZulu-Natal badminton headquarters, and this cemented her interest in the game.
Edwards has been a physical education and geography teacher at Wynberg Girls High School for 15 years.
She said it was thanks to support from staff and pupils that she has been able to successfully pursue her dream of teaching and her passion for playing badminton. “I’ve always wanted to teach. And although my becoming a badminton player is a funny story, it has become my passion. And I am privileged that I can do both,” said Edwards.
She said principal Shirley Harding and the rest of the staff had been helpful and understanding when it came to her availability at school.
“They rescheduled my time-tables so I could find the time to train. It was hard. I would be between training and teaching all day, rushing back and forth, trying to get in training hours where possible. Juggling this lifestyle left little time for myself, but nothing beats the feeling of representing my country at the Olympic Games,” she added.
In Athens in 2004, Edwards was knocked out of the Olympics in the second round.
In Beijing in 2008, she and Viljoen, who also lives in Cape Town, lost one step from the quarter-finals. “No matter, this is the third time. It is always an honour to represent my country. I call it ‘my MasterCard moment’ because it is priceless, a real lump-in-your-throat feeling. We are excited and determined to do well,” said Edwards.
One of her Grade 12 pupils, Rayne Callaghan, said she thought having a teacher who competed in the Olympics was “the coolest thing”.
“She is a good role model. So many athletes at school look up to her because she proves that with sacrifice, commitment and dedication, you can achieve anything. I will be watching her on television and rooting for her all the way,” Callaghan said.