JOURNEY: Kelvin Mickelson lives at Glass House Mountains and runs a custard apple orchard with his wife. Photo: Patrick Woods
JOURNEY: Kelvin Mickelson lives at Glass House Mountains and runs a custard apple orchard with his wife. Photo: Patrick Woods

Overcoming true adversity to reflect life of adventure

THE life of Kelvin Mickelson can only be described as one you'd see in the movies.

A child born with every excuse to not succeed proved just how wrong labels can be.

"I've had, I guess you would say, a journey for the last 57 years," he said.

"I was in a disabled body in an able-bodied world, so I had quite a few experiences."

The Canadian-born man was a survivor of the thalidomide tragedy in 1962 and as a result, was born without both of his legs.

Yet Kelvin believes he was one of the lucky ones.

"A very large portion of the population has deformed arms, so they use their legs and their feet as arms," he said.

"The world that we live in isn't necessarily built to have your legs being used that way.

"For me, having use of both of my arms, I'm quite fortunate that way."

Growing up on a farm with his family, Kelvin never let the disability shadow his ability to just be a kid.

Yet his childhood was not without difficulty.

"When you had thalidomide, everybody was on a learning curve, including yourself because you had nobody to coach you," he said.

"A lot of the time the roads you took through life, your path, you did alone.

"Nobody could provide you with the steps or sidewalks or path that was the best way forward."

Kelvin Mickelson. Photo: Patrick Woods
Kelvin Mickelson. Photo: Patrick Woods

But with open space in his blood, Kelvin credits his carefree life to where he grew up.

"On a farm, I was sheltered from that in the sense that my father was very good at making things … I was actually very productive," he said.

"I just lived a normal life … I did all the things that a normal young boy would do."

That was until Kelvin decided his life's course would no longer reflect that of a "normal" boy.

A dip in the pool and a throwaway comment about his impressive arm strength was what began Kelvin's sporting legacy.

"I've never had a wheelchair in my life," he said.

"I've always used my arms as my legs and for climbing and for walking and running and exploring … I had extremely good upper-body strength at a very young age.

"One day, I went for a swim and it came to me naturally because my arms were so powerful.

"I'd never competed in any kind of events before … someone said 'you should go and compete' … so I did."

Not knowing what to expect, Kelvin competed in his first swimming competition.

He expected even less to smash the world record.

But he did.

"I'd never competed against anybody before but when I did, I shattered the world records," he said.

"The second time I did it I had to train a little bit because I had to beat myself, and that was a bit tougher.

"The third time I had to train an awful lot because once again, I had to beat myself."

Kelvin continued to set world records in swimming and after moving to Queensland, competed in volleyball with the 2000 Australian Paralympic training squad.

Years later he was still bitten by the bug of sport, and then decided to set a record of a different kind.

"It would have been two and a half years ago, and myself up in Queensland and a group down in Victoria both simultaneously started up para ice hockey," he said.

"I thought if you can have a Jamaican bobsled team, you can definitely have an Australian para ice hockey team."

Kelvin Mickelson in his para ice hockey gear. Photo: Contributed
Kelvin Mickelson in his para ice hockey gear. Photo: Contributed

After grants from the government made it possible, Kelvin began the state's first para ice hockey team.

He said it was one of the only sports where a person's disability was not a factor, paling in comparison to one's skill on the ice.

"There is a stigma and an incorrect perception that people with disabilities do not want to, or cannot, participate in sporting activities and this is one of the biggest barriers to be overcome," he said.

"But para ice hockey, by it's nature, is a very inclusive sport.

"It's one of the only sports where you and I are equal. We can both play in a team and neither of us are at an advantage or disadvantage."

Kelvin is still dedicated to his para ice hockey team, but also shares his passion in a different field with his wife Melissa.

The Glass House Mountains pair run a custard apple farm from their property, a venture Kelvin said happened by chance.

"We were both living in Brisbane and when we found out we were having our first child, we would take a drive every weekend just to get out of the big smoke," he said.

"Low and behold, we found this farm for sale. I had such fond memories growing up on the farm in Canada, that we put in an offer.

"And by gee, they accepted it."

Kelvin Mickelson descending Dales Gorge at Karijini. Photo: Contributed
Kelvin Mickelson descending Dales Gorge at Karijini. Photo: Contributed

A life now reflected in years of adventure, Kelvin said his greatest achievement wasn't found in individual awards or accolades.

It was the pride he shared with millions across the world.

"I have two daughters who I am extremely proud of," he said.

"I think if you talk about investments into something … it would be my two daughters."

On a personal level, Kelvin shared the wisdom many spend years of making mistakes trying to search for.

"I guess I have a little part of me in the back of my head that says I'm not disabled," he said.

"I've always maintained that. If you really want to get to that cookie on top of the fridge in the jar, you'll find your way to do it.

"But sometimes, it's just not achievable. You just have to learn that you can fail, failing is OK.

"But perseverance and giving something your best shot … everybody gets challenges every day, you either can overcome them, go around them or back off them. It's exactly the same for me."

Kelvin once felt he was left to walk life's journey alone.

Now, the thalidomide survivor, world record breaker, para ice hockey leader and custard apple farm owner has nothing to fear.

"There was a lot of stigma around having physical deformities around that time," he said.

"But now, how often are you in a situation where you see someone in a wheelchair, but you don't bat an eye at it anymore.

"People have come more aware, educated and there's a lot more acceptance.

"I no longer walk alone."