He is Australia’s fastest ever skier, represented Australia at five Paralympic Games, a champion cyclist, won dozens of international medals, climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and walked the Kokoda Track, and is a soon-to-be father of two.
Cancer: Michael Milton is also a two-time cancer survivor. He lost his leg to bone cancer as a nine-year-old and 25 years later in July 2007 was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. On the brink of a successful cycling career, Milton thought his dreams of competing in his first summer Paralympic Games were finished but, over the next 11 months, he staged what is surely one of Australia’s greatest sporting comebacks.
Clucling: In June 2008, less than a year since his diagnosis, Michael Milton was selected in the Australian cycling team for the Beijing Paralympic Games.
Story: His story is the stuff of legends, his determination to win something to which we all aspire. He talks about facing his own mortality, prioritising his life, dealing with the cancer. His stories tell of his first day back on the bike after major surgery, of being bedridden for weeks after competitions, of not knowing when or if he’d be able to train again, of realising that he had a chance, a slim chance to ride in Beijing.
Medals: Michael Milton is one of Australia’s best-known and most respected athletes. His four-gold-medal haul at the 2002 Winter Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City endeared him to a sport-loving nation and earned him the title of World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability presented at a gala event in Monte Carlo.
Background: Michael started skiing at three, lost his leg to bone cancer at nine and, the following winter, learned how to ski on one leg. At 14 he competed in his first Paralympic Games and, at 19, won Australia’s first ever winter gold medal, a decade ahead of Stephen Bradbury.
Paralympic Games: He set a goal: to win all four alpine skiing events at the Paralympic Games. It took ten years but, in 2002 at the Salt Lake Paralympic Games, he achieved the impossible, winning gold in every single event.
Skiing: Looking for a new challenge, Michael took up speed skiing, the ‘drag racing of alpine sports’. In his rookie year (2003), he became the world’s fastest skier on one leg when he skied at over 193km/hr, smashing a world record that had been unchallenged for 16 years. A year later he broke that record again, clocking 198.68km/hr, agonisingly short of his 200km/hr goal… or, as Michael says, ‘1/14,000th of a second too slow!’
2006: Then, in April 2006 in France, Michael set a new open Australian speed skiing record, clocking an amazing 213.65km/hr. He is now the fastest Australian skier ever and the first person with a disability to ski over 200km/hr. It was only Michael’s fourth season in the sport.
Retirement: Michael announced his retirement from ski racing prior to his fifth and last winter Paralympic Games in Torino in 2006. Changes to the classification system forced a re-evaluation of his goals and he announced he would come home with metal around his neck ‘… just one, any colour’. True to his word he won a silver medal in the Downhill on the first day of competition. The win brought his international medal tally to 22: 11 Paralympic and 11 World Championship medals, including 12 gold.
Cycling: But he wasn’t finished… not really. The desire to compete is a strong one and Michael started thinking about his other sporting passion – cycling. He rode in a velodrome for the first time mid-2006 and, after six months of training and learning, he competed in the February 2007 Australian Track Cycling Championships, winning a silver and a gold medal and breaking an Australian record along the way.
Based on his results, he was selected in the Australian team for the August 2007 World Para-Cycling Championships in France. Things were well on track and Beijing beckoned but fatigue and illness started to affect his ability to train and things only got worse.
Cancer: Michael pulled out of the team early in July 2007, only days before being diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. Suddenly he faced a new challenge, a fight to keep his life.