BEST OF MIPIK: Michael Crossland
Fri, January 24, 2014 at 12:00
Stephanie Hunt

This is the second in our series of "Best of MIPIK", which will run throughout January.  I first met Michael Crossland in July 2011 and was amazed by his story of survival against all odds.  I have run into Michael a couple of times since - and on every occasion I am bowled over by his excuberance and love.  So I'm excited to be revisiting his story.



Photo by Emma RhoadesA Message of Hope

I use the rope to play tug of war.”  That was the opening line in a letter that Michael Crossland recently received from a young girl in Denver, Colorado.  Michael remembers the girl; she was the one dressed in black with black eye make up and black nails.  The plan had been to hang herself in a motel room, she wrote.  But after hearing Michael speak she had decided the rope was better used to play tug of war with her friends.


Michael has a way of making people look at their lives and their problems differently.   He has personally endured more pain, sorrow and disappointment than most of us would think possible to bear.  Yet he speaks with a forceful confidence about hope, changing the world and living into his goals.  “I know I’m here for a purpose,” he says.  “I know that not only can I change lives but by the sound of that letter I can save lives as well.”  The contrast between this man’s outlook and his story is spellbinding and inspiring. 

Yet much of his story is so upsetting it makes you want to look away.  Michael started his first round of chemo on his first birthday.  He was sent home to die when he was 2, before being given a second chance with a trial drug program that killed 24 out of the 25 participants.  The one survivor, Michael, was left with only one functioning lung, a damaged heart and a compromised immune system.  He suffered his first heart attack at 12, was hospitalised for 3 months at 19, contracted bacterial meningitis at 22 and was struck again with viral meningitis at 24.  As far as the medical profession is concerned he should be dead.

Yet today Michael celebrates his 27th birthday.  Just reaching this landmark is a remarkable feat, but Michael has done so much more with his life than simply stay alive. 

“I want to play baseball in America.”  These words began a quest to not just survive, but to live a dream.  “Mum bought me a Velcro glove and ball and we played catch in hospital,” Michael explains.  “It made me feel normal.  It made me feel that I could do things that I was always told I couldn’t do.” 

At age 4 the goal was set and by 12 he had made the Coffs Harbour side before going on to represent NSW.  “I was on my way to Perth to play and had a heart attack a week before I flew out.  So that would have been the perfect opportunity for me to realise that my dreams can’t come true, but I became even more determined.”  Michael took care of himself, practiced hard and at 15 he was chosen to play for the Australian Expos touring side and found himself playing ball in America. 

“I remember that first year - landing in America, listening to my national anthem, my chest out- being one of the proudest moments of my life.  It’s such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment when you achieve something that people tell you you’ll never achieve.”

These days Michael is focussed on helping others to believe in their ability to achieve the seemingly unthinkable and unreachable.  He began public speaking after being featured in The Australian Story at the end of 2002.  He had just returned from America, where he had played for 12 months for a team in Texas before yet again succumbing to illness and having to be sent home.  He spoke about how he had achieved his dream against all odds and about how he was able to keep going once his dream came to an end. 

He began to understand the power of his story.  “I just wanted to be like everybody else,” he says. “Because of my challenges and the way I’ve dealt with them people looked at me as an extraordinary human being and that was just….I had to pinch myself.”

With a growing sense of his own power to inspire, Michael continued to give motivational speeches as his story continued to unfold.  He was nominated for Young Australian of the Year in 2002 and became an ambassador for Camp Quality and the Cancer Council.  He coached his old Expos baseball team and toured America with them.  He suffered terrible recurrences of illness yet built a successful career in finance, shooting up the ladder with GE Money in Sydney.  Sick again, the doctors thought he was riddled with cancer and he was temporarily paralysed by several unsuccessful attempts to give him a spinal tap.  He moved home to Coffs Harbour and became bank manager for Westpac, and joined the board of the local Chamber of Commerce.  The more he was knocked down the more furiously he fought his way back, and the more inspirational his story became

Last year it became apparent that although Michael is unquestionably inspiring, he is also human.  He hit the wall.  “Being me I wanted to prove people wrong, show them I could do it.  I was working 60-70 hours a week at Westpac.  I spoke at 48 different venues around the world last year.  I took the team to America.  I spoke at every Camp Quality and Cancer Council event that I could.  I was just doing too much.  I was completely and utterly exhausted.” 

In February he requested a career break from Westpac in Coffs Harbour and has tried to slow down.  This too has become a lesson he wants to share with others.  “We invest in our business, we invest in our family, but if we forget to invest in ourselves then we’re going to hit a wall.”

Despite lessons learned Michael’s idea of slowing down is still incredibly aspirational.  His focus now is to take his message of hope to the world.  While his ambitions are global it is at an individual level that Michael’s impact is truly felt. 

Meet Sean, a young boy who discovered one Christmas Day that he had cancer of the spine.  When Michael heard his story and learned that Sean loved baseball and dreamt of playing in America he was moved to tears and driven to action.    He promised to take him to America with the Expos team if he could get well enough to come.  “It was amazing.  All of a sudden the cancer cells started to reduce, his attitude changed, his tears became smiles.”  Sean went to America that year, and this year he’ll be there again.

For sick kids like Sean, Michael’s message is one of pure hope.  “I got told that tomorrow is not an option and these kids have been told the same thing.  But look, I’m still standing, here I am.”

For the rest of us his message is a little more complicated.  “I see people in this community that take the finer things in life for granted and magnify trivial issues in their lives,” Michael says.  He wants us to recognize that there is a gift in waking up each morning and there is no guarantee of a tomorrow.  “If people can live for now, embrace now and appreciate now then life is going to be so much brighter and so much fuller.”  We need to use the rope to play tug of war!



OK - take a deep breath, because I am about to tell you some of what Michael's been up to lately.  First and foremost he married Mel, the woman he calls his angel.  He has also helped to rebuild a school and orphanage in Haiti, presented to the 911 victims and their families in New York, become a National Ambassador for Camp Quality and the Australian Cancer Research Institute, and been named Australia Day Ambassador for the 4th year in a row. 

His sporting days are not even close to over!  He was named the Canterbuy Bulldogs secret motivational weapon by the Sydney Morning Herald.  He made a dream come true for Biggest Loser contestant Todd Nester, taking him to America to live his dream of playing baseball in the US.  And he's worked with both the New York Mets and my old home team the Toronto Bluejays Major League Baseball Teams at spring training. 

There's more, but I have to lie down.  But don't despair because he's been offered a book deal and a possible feature length documentary about his life - check out the preview...



Article originally appeared on The Most Interesting Person I Know (
See website for complete article licensing information.