Hugh Edwards loved two things in life: rowing and flying. One nearly got him killed, but the other probably saved his life.
Edwards went to Oxford at the age of 19 in 1925 and discovered rowing. He was a big guy— bigger than the average rower—and that earned him the nickname of Jumbo. As a member of the Oxford rowing team, he collapsed during an important race with the Cambridge team in 1926 and was diagnosed as having a hypertrophied heart. If he continued to row, he was told, it might kill him.
Thoroughly dispirited, he returned to Oxford but failed his exams and had to drop out. He couldn’t leave rowing alone, however, and in 1927 he joined the London Rowing Club, which he led to victory after victory.
The recognition he received landed him a spot on the British Olympic rowing team of 1932. There, he achieved something no athlete has ever done. He won two gold medals within one hour.
After that, Edwards turned to competitive flying, and during the 1930s won numerous flying events and competitions. When World War II broke out, he joined the Royal Air Force Coastal Command. In 1943, he had to ditch his plane off of Land’s End and found himself alone with only an inflatable life raft. So, he did what he had always done. He rowed.
He rowed through mine-infested waters and after several hours was finally picked up by a British cruiser.
After the war, Jumbo Edwards was invited back to Oxford to coach the rowing team, and he coached the British Olympic team in 1960. He died in 1972.
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