Australia’s fastest skier and 11-time Paralympic medallist Michael Milton on defining success and the importance of having the right support in place

Michael Milton
Image credit: Paralympics Australia

Confidence plays an integral role in facing challenges, accomplishing great things and realising outstanding achievement in work and life. But success is rarely a journey that is travelled alone.

To celebrate the Olympic and Paralympic Movements, four remarkable elite winter athletes share their journey to success and the people who helped them #SparkConfidence as they navigated their extraordinary sporting careers and professional pursuits.

To Michael Milton, success is multifaceted in meaning. He won 11 medals at the Paralympic Winter Games throughout his 20-year alpine career, which certainly sits high on his long list of outstanding achievements. He also broke a host of speed skiing records, and 15 years later his 213.65km/hr run still stands as the fastest by any Australian skier ever and the world record for a skier with a disability.

Certainly, success for Michael is also being a two-time cancer survivor. Once, when he was nine and lost his left leg as a result of bone cancer. And again 25 years later, when he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, 11 months after which he made an incredible comeback and was selected for the Australian Cycling Team at the Paralympic Summer Games.

After his skiing career, he held numerous roles as a public speaker, a brand ambassador, and is now the owner of a series of retail stores across Australia that specialise in themed licenced merchandise.

But to Michael, there’s more to success than what’s on paper. “Having fun is success. Winning a medal is success. It can be measured by a bank account, and as an athlete, your sponsorships,” he says. “At different stages of my career, depending on what the motivation was, success was a lifestyle; being able to go overseas, train and have fun with my friends.

“When it comes to finding success in an organisation, the balance sheet is important, but I believe that it's not the only measure of success.”

For Michael, success is highly individual, and it all stems from passion, motivation and having the right support in place. ‘[Sport] gave me a passion. It has given me something that I can work towards, and for me, that passion for the sport evolved into a passion for competition,” says Michael.

While it took consistent, hard work for Michael to build his own confidence, there were others who played a pivotal role in his accomplishments, such as his coach Steve Graham, who he says was the main influence who shaped his skiing career.

While Michael says the coach-athlete relationship was often about following directives, there were other times, such as post-race or training debriefs that were more collaborative, and became “more of a two-way discussion,” he recalls. “We both had enormous levels of respect for each other.”

This collaborative spirit has carried through into Michael’s business, which he runs alongside his wife. “We both bring strengths and weaknesses. We have a great partnership, however, in terms of knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses, and having a clear delineation of who's responsible for what.”

As the business nears its fourth anniversary, Michael knows the value and power of teamwork. “Could I do this on my own?” Michael quips. “Collaboration gives you many things, including confidence,” as he remembers starting his business as a bricks and mortar and online shop. He answers his own question: “It’s just not possible,” he says, citing the complementary skill sets within his team that make the business work.

After numerous lockdowns that have impacted his bricks and mortar shops over the past 18 months, he also notes the value of supporting others, with his own staff helping and volunteering where possible during the pandemic.

“Being able to create a community to support and help each other is very important,” he says. “[Our staff’s] willingness to come and support and help us and volunteer has been absolutely amazing.” No doubt, this spirit is something Michael can, even in the face of great challenges, surely count as a success, too.