December 24, 1998
By JR ROSS
Associated Press Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind.- Mike Edwards’ little brother gave him a rubber band two years ago to “fix” the leg he broke in a high school basketball game.
That rubber band still hangs around Edwards’ wrist as a reminder of what he’s been through. At 13, he chose to have his deformed right leg amputated and replaced with a prosthesis, in part so he could play sports.
Five years later, Edwards plays basketball for Notre Dame.
“While a lot of kids were thinking about who they were going to ask out the next day or what video games they were going to buy the next day, I was contemplating whether or not to keep my leg,” Edwards said.
“I haven’t looked back since that day.”
|“You have to show yourself over and over and over you have the strength and the ability.”|
He also has never regretted his decision, which came after years of being held back by a deformed leg.
“Just me walking on the court makes a statement, not only to my fellow players, but to the coaches, the students, the faculty and the rest of the country,” Edwards said. “If you are determined enough and you are focused enough and you have the courage, you’ll get to where you want to be.”
Edwards’ journey began as a kid just trying to keep up on the playground. He struggled because of the birth defect that left him with severe problems with his lower right leg and forced him to wear a heavy brace.
As Edwards grew, so did the problems with the leg and the size of the brace. By the time he became a teen-ager, Edwards’ leg was holding him back from realizing his athletic potential, said his father, Mike Edwards Sr.
“I knew if he had the opportunity to get something lighter, stronger and faster that he could do a lot with it,” he said.
That’s when Edwards’ parents allowed him to make a decision that would define him – and inspire many others.
“It has made him even more determined to succeed,” the elder Edwards said. “I’m not sure that he would be performing as well if he would have had the two legs.”
Since having his leg amputated just below the knee, Edwards has developed a sense of humor about his artificial limb.
After transferring into South Bend Adams High School, Edwards kept his disability a secret as a senior trying out for the basketball team. He told teammates and coaches he wore a leg brace because of an injury and practiced in sweat pants or socks pulled over his knee to hide his prosthesis.
He finally revealed the secret after a preseason scrimmage when half the team saw him take off the leg on a school van, turn it around and reattach it. His other teammates discovered his secret when he walked with his prosthesis facing backward into the restaurant where they were eating.
“I think that if I present myself in a humorous way, it not only makes me feel comfortable around anyone … it also makes them more comfortable,” Edwards said.
At one of his high school games, Edwards had a problem with his artificial leg. That’s when his 6-year-old brother gave him the rubber band.
Along with his humor, Edwards has developed confidence, especially when people doubt him.
“With this, you have to be cocky,” he said. “You can’t doubt yourself. You can’t doubt your ability. You have to show yourself over and over and over you have the strength and the ability.”
While Edwards played for South Bend Adams High School, Irish coach John MacLeod heard that his lifelong dream was to play at Notre Dame.
“Basically, we contacted him and just put him on the team,” MacLeod said. “My feeling was that this young man wants to play that badly and this is his dream, then let’s try to help him fulfill his dream.”
That meant the freshman got to skip the walk-on tryouts that other non-scholarship players had to go through. He’s also on a limited practice schedule, as are other walk-ons.
Edwards dismisses the notion that he’s getting special treatment from the team because of his disability. He acknowledges, however, that he’s a “20-20 player” – only seeing action when the Irish are up 20 points or down 20 points.
But he promises this is a four-year project, not a one-time gift from the school. Besides, he couldn’t care less what others say.
“My walk-on tryout was 18 years of my life,” he said. “People can go, ‘What if’ all they want. … I don’t have a leg, and I’m playing Division I basketball, and that is the reality.”
Edwards has become an inspiration to others with disabilities, a position he readily accepts. He fields frequent requests for public speaking engagements and has tried to squeeze in what he can with a busy schedule as an athlete trying to make the transition to college life.
At one appearance this fall, Edwards struck on a theme that has been a constant in his life – that he’s one of the lucky ones. He told his audience that frequent visits to hospitals over the years have brought him face-to-face with children dealing with tougher situations.
“I play basketball for those people that can’t,” Edwards said. “I’m representing those who can’t get up and walk and shoot the ball.”
So far, his only shot in the regular season was an awkward 3-pointer on Monday against Stetson in the final minute with the game well out of hand. Just his appearance at the scorer’s table brought the crowd to life, and his teammates were almost as disappointed as Edwards when his 3-pointer clanked off the rim.
“He’s a good guy. He’s so inspirational,” said Troy Murphy, the team’s leading scorer. “He’s running sprints at the end of practice, and it’s just unbelievable. I mean, he’s pretty much beating everybody.
“The stuff he’s been through, it just shows us how lucky everyone here is and how much of an inspiration he is. There’s life after basketball, and he shows that.”