An account of Bear’s all-too-short, but full life – as told by his wife Deb.
Bear was born in Blacktown NSW, where he lived with parents John and Elizabeth, and brother Craig. With blond hair and blue eyes, he was a natural athlete, who had an immense affinity to water. As a child he excelled in swimming, namely breaststroke and the individual medley. After winning the 200m breaststroke consecutively for a number of years at the national age swimming championships, he was selected for the Australian Swimming Squad. Bear set his sights on representing Australia at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and was training at the Australian Institute of Sport, when his father was critically injured in a farming accident on their family property outside Dalby, QLD. Without hesitation or regret, Bear decided to end his swimming career to be with his parents and he completed his secondary schooling at Dalby State High School. (At high school he was also known as ‘Gruff’ after a rousing rendition of ‘Wild Thing’ at a school function, but Bear’s musical talents are a whole other story…).
After High School, Bear moved to Townsville to study Construction Management at James Cook University. After all those years of strict discipline and hours of swimming training, Bear revelled in the freedom of University life and especially the amount and types of sport he could play. One of his many pursuits in life was to try as many sports as he possibly could, and in those 40 short years, there weren’t many he hadn’t tried.
For the first few years of University study, Bear lived on campus in Western Halls residential college, where he made the most of the opportunity to play in the Inter-college sports competition. Here he was able to compete in team sports such as rugby league, rugby union, touch football, hockey, soccer and basketball.
In his ‘spare time’ he also tried his hand at sailing, jujitsu, judo, cycling and waterpolo, as well as attending Army Reserves, where due to colour blindness, he was constrained to the Transport Division. However it didn’t hinder his ability to handle a firearm and having honed his shooting skills on ‘roos’ on the family property, he proved his ability, winning a number of shooting competitions during his time serving in the Army Reserves. He also represented James Cook Uni at the National University Games, where he competed in rugby league and was an integral part of the successful waterpolo team, the year JCU won the waterpolo competition.
During his time at Western Halls he met and began dating his future wife Deb Morris – who also shared his love of sports, music and the outdoors. At the end of 1994 they were named Western Halls Sportsman and Sportswoman of the year, which prompted good friend Mick Ryan to proclaim, ‘Your kids are going to be Olympians!’ That remains to be seen, but there is no doubt, despite their young ages, both Grace and Wes have inherited that love of sport and the outdoors.
The enjoyment of University’s extracurricular activities did come at a price and Bear was forced to abandon his studies when he was no longer eligible for Austudy. Ever resourceful, he had picked up work at a small construction company in Townsville and had been trying to work and study full time, but it proved to be unsustainable.
After completing a Biological Science Degree at the end of 1995, Deb returned home to work on her parent’s banana farm near El Arish, to save up for a trip to Canada. In mid 1996, Bear followed Deb north to El Arish, where he was also given work on the banana farm.
In late 1997 Bear was successful in gaining an Estimator cadetship with Derite – a subsidiary of Boral Plasterboard, in Cairns. Deb joined him in May 1998 and a few months later she successfully gained a position with AQIS – Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (as it was known then), where she worked for the next 10 years.
Mick finally popped the question to Deb on the stroke of midnight, on the 1/1/2000, at Fitzroy Island and they were married on 22nd September 2001 at Eden House in Yungaburra.
How Mick came to be ‘Bear’…
University life – namely a poor diet and high alcohol intake, took a toll on Mick’s physique and the once lean, svelte swimmers body, was transformed into a solid, but strong, heavy-set frame. Yet despite his increased size, Mick was still deceptively agile and fast over short distances – as many an opponent discovered by underestimating his speed on the sports field. Likewise people would marvel at the ease in which he could wakeboard and waterski on both single and double skis. Regardless of his size, throughout his life he maintained that effortless swimming style, which allowed him to seemingly glide through the water. His love of water was so great that he never missed an opportunity to be on, or in, water – whether it be a creek, river, ocean, pool, dam or lake and regardless of the weather, temperature or the fact certain reptiles may inhabit such bodies of water – such was his affinity to water.
During his time with Derite, Bear was selected to attend a Boral’s Young Leaders program in Melbourne, where he was able to try his hand at rock climbing and abseiling. Despite the opposing forces of gravity, he yet again demonstrated his natural athletic ability and thoroughly enjoyed trying his hand at being a ‘rock spider’. Returning from Victoria he became determined to lose weight.
When Bear first moved to Cairns he joined the Mann St Touch football Association and later the Waterpolo club. In 2002, whilst playing waterpolo at a local pool, Mick discovered a triathlon squad called AAA Fitness, coached by Scott ‘Aardvark’ Penny. He joined the squad, and was soon assigned his animal nickname ‘Bear’ – due to his physique and began training alongside other members such as Springbok, Emu, Rooster, Ram, Squirrel, Hippo and Seal – just to name a few. Bear revelled in the intense training and mateship that was forged within the training squad. He admitted that he didn’t really care for competing in triathlons – that it was the group training and the camaraderie that he enjoyed the most.
Despite his aversion to competing, he went on to compete in numerous events including the Tinaroo Half Ironman, Cairns Coral Coast Triathlon, Tagaman triathlon in Saipan and both the Mooloolaba and Noosa triathlons. In doing so, he achieved his goal of losing weight – over 20kg and at his lightest weighed 87kg.
He was never an elite competitor, but loved the challenge of pushing his body to the limit. The swim leg was obviously his strongest discipline, but with those powerful thighs and love of cycling, his bike leg became just as strong. Unfortunately running was Bear’s Achilles heel and despite his best efforts, nearly always would struggle to maintain his position in the run.
With Bear focused so much on his health and physical activity, he decided a change of career would be beneficial. He applied to become an Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighter and after a lengthy and rigorous testing process, which took over 12 months and included addressing selection criteria, performing a series of cognitive and psychometric online tests, a number of physical assessments and a panel interview, he was successful in being offered a position. Both Bear and Deb were overjoyed, but this was to be short-lived following the final medical test, when his colour blindness was detected. Bear’s dream job was lost, before he had a chance to start it.
Despite being disappointed, Bear didn’t dwell on the outcome. He accepted the decision, took it on the chin and moved on. He re-evaluated his career options and later on decided to start his own business.
When the triathlon squad dispersed in 2006 Bear continued to train and compete but he wasn’t able to maintain the high intensity training, once he had established his own company – Linings Plus in 2007. He took on more of a supporting role by becoming Vice-president of the Cairns Crocs Triathlon Club for a couple of years, alongside his good friend Ivan Whittle who was President. Though he never went on to compete in another triathlon, he always had a burning ambition to attempt his first Ironman after he turned 40.
Bear loved the outdoors and rarely missed an opportunity to play a game of golf, go fishing, camping or exploring new places. He loved to test himself physically and mentally and competed in a number of local multisport races and rogaines including The Northern Quoll Adventure race and the James Grant Memorial race at Redlynch Valley, before discovering mountain bike riding. He honed his mountain biking skills on the tracks at Smithfield and Davies Creek, as well as regularly attending all of the North Queensland events available including the Cairns to Karumba Charity Ride, Herberton and Atherton 8hr races, Hotrock 8hr Relay in Townsville and the Paluma Push and Dam Dark 12hr competitions in Paluma.
In 2010 Bear decided to take his mountain biking to a whole new level by entering the Crocodile Trophy. Regarded as one of the world’s toughest MTB races, the race started in Cairns, travelled over 1100kms over 10 days throughout Far North Queensland, finishing in Cape Tribulation. Bear competed in a team which included good mate Ivan and Cairns local riding identity Greg Parr. Together they formed Team MIG – short for Mick, Ivan & Greg.
Whilst training for ‘the Croc’ Bear renewed his friendship and training regimes with Lauretta Howarth, with whom he used to train with in the AAA Fitness squad. Lauretta was also riding in the Croc Trophy, in the only all female team – ‘Shespoke’ which comprised Greg’s wife Sharmin and another local rider Maree Roberts.
The race began disastrously for Bear. He struggled greatly on the first leg, which started at the Cairns Esplanade, travelled up Lake Morris road, over the range and down to Lake Tinaroo. In the rush to get the support vehicle and himself ready for the race start, Bear failed to have a decent breakfast, which cost him dearly later in the day. When the last riders were arriving at Tinaroo at dusk, Bear’s wife Deb who was anxiously awaiting his arrival, started to hear reports that Bear was in a bad way – i.e. totally spent, off the bike, vomiting blood and unlikely to finish the first leg. She expected him to arrive back on a stretcher and had visions of him being airlifted back to Cairns in the rescue helicopter and immediately began thinking of the logistical implications it would have on the support vehicle and the other crew member Kerrod – Lauretta’s partner.
However when Bear arrived back to camp after dark, Deb found him sitting up in the back of a troop carrier, and apart from looking very dejected and tired, he could walk and talk, which is not what she was expecting. After receiving some medical attention from Lauretta (a paramedic), a lot of TLC from Deb and having an obligatory swim in Lake Tinaroo, he was feeling and looking a bit more revived.
In the morning he was told that although he hadn’t finished the first leg, he could continue in the race, if he was feeling up to it, but would be given a heavy time penalty. Bear was determined to continue, despite still feeling dizzy as he made his way up to the start barrier. A very worried Deb approached Lauretta to ask whether she thought he should continue, as Stage 2 required them to climb up over Mount Edith and down to Granite Gorge. Both Lauretta and Ivan gave Deb their word that they would look after him and regardless of how long it might take, they’d get him to Granite Gorge safely – and they did.
Much to everyone’s relief Bear made it up the mountain and as the race went on, he only got stronger and stronger. One of his racing highlights happened during Stage 5 in Chillagoe, where he experienced the ‘rush’ of the peloton as he stayed with the main group for as long as he could, as they headed out of Chillagoe during the 100km time trial.
Despite all the strength and determination he showed in finishing the Croc Trophy, given his disastrous start, it was another of his legendary efforts in Chillagoe that proved to be one of Bear’s greatest achievements – the conception of his daughter Grace.
Bear had unfinished business with the Croc Trophy – namely Stage 1, and was keen to compete again in 2011. However with a child on the way and his business expanding to Townsville, life got even busier for Bear and he decided not to do the race. He still tried to ride recreationally once a week and continued to attend a few of the local MTB events. He also assisted Lauretta and Lesley Sutton – a fellow Croc Trophy finisher, train for an event they were competing together in East Timor. It was during one of these gruelling training sessions that Bear remarked ‘I know it hurts, it’s supposed to hurt, so suck it up and keep pedalling!’ These words have become synonymous with Bear and were printed on the shirts of the riders, who formed his bike escort, that led the hearse from the Heritage Brady Chapel in Gordonvale to the Forest View Cemetery in Mount Sheridan, where Bear lays at rest.
Bear’s life changed immeasurably with the birth of Grace in July 2011. He proved to be an amazing father, who was very hands-on and spoke often of all the sports and activities he was looking forward to introducing his kids to. Whilst he thrived in parenthood, he did however face some of life’s greatest and most challenging experiences in those final years. As well as attending to his new family, he was also trying to guide his business through tough financial times. Bear always found exercise to be the greatest stress management and in late 2012 he finally got to go on a ski holiday where he learned to snowboard for the first time and ski for just the second time in his life. As usual he picked it up with ease.
He also started to attend boxing trainer with a local trainer, with whom he also acquired his heavy vehicle license, which was another ambition he had always had. Unfortunately with a significant downturn in the construction industry and a failed contract on a large construction project in Townsville, Bear was forced to place his companies into external administration at the beginning of 2013. This came only months after the birth of his son Wes, who was born on Australia Day.
Whilst he was was gutted with having to end the businesses, once again he didn’t dwell on his misfortunes and remained ever philosophical about the events that had transpired. Events that would ultimately lead to the sale of their house and bankruptcy. Although it was a hard time for Bear and Deb, it was also an opportunity for them to reaffirm their love and commitment to one another. They had each other, their two beautiful kids, the wonderful support of family and friends – and that was all that really mattered..
Determined and positive to make a new start, Bear, Deb and their kids moved into Deb’s parents place near El Arish, where Bear soon found work with a local construction company Nat Symons Constructions as an estimator / supervisor. Bear and Nat ‘clicked’ and in a short amount of time forged a strong friendship and respect for one another.
Bear was optimistic about the future and was looking forward to living and raising his family in a smaller rural community. When they were back on their feet again financially, he hoped to move closer to the beach, where he intended on joining the Mission Beach Surf Lifesaving Club and taking the kids to nippers when they were old enough.
On the weekend of the 18th May 2013, Bear was asked to join a mate on a 4WD and camping trip with a group to Maytown. Never one to miss an opportunity to explore new country and meet new friends, Bear accepted the offer and from all accounts, thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. As the convoy headed back towards Mount Carbine mid Sunday afternoon on the 19th May, Bear sat in the passenger seat discussing and planning another trip to the area, but this time on mountain bike. Tragically the vehicle he was travelling in, lost control and rolled. Bear’s life ended instantly.
This loveable larrikin, with a heart of gold, most certainly lived life to the fullest – and in doing so, he touched the lives of so many. The wording on the massive cross that marks the crash site, reads ‘The best mate you could have.’ But words fail to capture the spirit of this likeable, generous and humble soul.
It is hoped that the creation of this Foundation will in some small way, continue the legacy of this inspiring man.