Alumni Profile: Bev Mickelson

Keeping both the mind and the body active–whether through exercise, art, reading or writing—is often a great form of therapy.

For former coach and physical education teacher Bev Mickelson ’77, of Portland, Ore., staying active even after she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease was important for keeping her mind busy. While she is no longer coaching basketball, Mickelson has found a new passion for the art of origami.

As a student at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Mickelson immersed herself in sports. She played women’s basketball for four years and played on the volleyball team for two. Her love of sports also led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in physical education and three minors in health, athletic training and coaching.

Mickelson’s inspiration to earn her degree in physical education came directly from her classmates and the fact that she felt that the women in the program had to work extra hard.

“In the women’s departments, we didn’t get scholarships and special treatment like all the guys did,” Mickelson said. “We had to get all we could get to help our sports progress.”

Her time as a physical education student and her involvement in collegiate sports gave Mickelson the chance to travel to other schools. Through her travels, however, she still appreciated UW Oshkosh and its environment.

“I most liked the size of the campus,” Mickelson said. “It wasn’t too big and wasn’t too small.”

In the years after graduating, Mickelson taught physical education in Wauwatosa and then Illinois, where she also coached basketball before deciding to pursue a master’s degree.

Mickelson earned her master’s in adult fitness and cardiac rehabilitation from UW-La Crosse. After completing her degree requirements, she began working for a wellness program at a local hospital, where she was in charge of implementing wellness and fitness tests and interpreting results to hospital employees.

After working in the hospital, she went to work in health clubs and decided to open her own health club business called Ageless Fitness.

The ability for Mickelson to manage her own schedule by owning a business was vital when she was diagnosed with Paget’s disease, a metabolic bone disorder that is accompanied with bone pain.

“I would work for a while and then not be able to because I had to rest my hip,” Mickelson said.

Soon after, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and had to stop working. Today, Mickelson lives with chronic pain.

“A Parkinson’s brain doesn’t produce enough dopamine, which guides your limbs,” Mickelson said. “Not enough dopamine causes movement to be affected.”

Mickelson started experiencing minor tremors before developing involuntary movements. She also suffers from back pain and dyskinesia, rigor and stiffness of the muscles.

While Parkinson’s disease is often debilitating, Mickelson took her love for staying active and channeled it differently in order to help her cope with her disease. She learned origami. And the results have been breathtaking.

“I had seen a little bit about origami and I always wanted to try it, but I didn’t have the opportunity while I was working,” Mickelson said.

Origami classes were scheduled activities at the assisted living facility, where Mickelson was living.

“Ever since that first class, I’ve been hooked on it,” Mickelson said.

The origami is good for the strength and dexterity of Mickelson’s hands, and it helps take her mind off of the pain from the Parkinson’s. When she wakes up in the middle of the night from stiffness and soreness, she works on one of her crafts, whether it’s origami, bookmarks or beading.

“I work on my crafts, and it distracts me,” Mickelson said. “The pain is still there, but I don’t feel it.”

The beauty and passion that went behind Mickelson’s origami drew the attention of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation’s 2014 Creativity and Parkinson’s Calendar. Mickelson’s work was featured, along with 12 other artists who were chosen nationwide.

“I’m very honored and very happy to be in the calendar and, hopefully, to be spreading a lot of information and awareness about Parkinson’s,” Mickelson said.

While she feels lucky to see her work in the calendar, Mickelson hopes that her origami will help spread awareness of the disease and give people hope as they wait for a cure.

“I want people to know that this is a terrible disease, and it’s hard to deal with and taxing on you and family and friends,” Mickelson said. “But there will be a cure someday and, in the meantime, we need to make the best of our situations.”


Latest comments
  • Hello Bev. I was checking emails today and saw the UW-O newsletter email; clicked on it and found this alumni list and there you were on Profiles of past graduates.
    I am in Sturgeon Bay at Bay View Church and graduated from Oshkosh State Teacher’s College as it was named in 1963. Taught in Green Bay Schools and retired in ’95.

    Bev, just want to say that your courage, life story and work in education and sports and now living with illness is inspirational. I have a cousin who has Parkinson’s Disease and I see the things you have talked about in her. It hurts to see it evolve for her; and for you; but hope is written in your words. It will help many people if they read your message.
    Good to share with you. Take care.
    Delane Jome, Sturgeon Bay, WI.

  • Thank you for allowing your story to help others.