JEONGSEON, South Korea—Mike Schultz, A.K.A. “Monster Mike”, as he is known in the snowboard cross and motocross community, has been an active athlete all his life. Competition has always driven him from a young age. This Minnesotan was at the top of his career in 2008, when he had an accident during the National Championship Snow board cross series in Michigan. He suffered a compound fracture to his left knee, and after several surgeries, doctors recommended amputating his left leg above the knee to save his life.
In the hospital, after the surgery, he and his wife, Sara chatted about making his own leg. Most people would let such an adversity pull them down but after this giant loss the troubleshooter in Mike got right to work on blazing the path to his own recovery. He was not satisfied with the prosthetic leg he was given – to him it looked like a simple mechanical hinge, certainly not something that would ever allow him to jump on a snowmobile again.
“Only you choose your limitations.” – Mike Schultz
He made some drawings and sketches to start. From there, he realized he had the basic parts to create the prototype for his idea – for example he used a shock absorber from a bike. He called the finished product the ‘Moto-knee’. With this one step Mike Schultz joined the ranks of Sherman Poppen, the man who invented the snowboard, in pushing the boundaries of downhill sports.
Schultz was not trained as an engineer, however when faced with the idea of not enjoying the sports he had always loved he faced the obstacle head on. Snowboarding was also not a sport he had ever tried but in the pursuit of creating his own leg he dove into the challenge of engineering and testing a new prosthetic.
“The harder you work for something the better it feels when you finally succeed.”
– Mike Shultz
Mike succeeded in becoming an entrepreneur, starting his own company, Biodapt, to create prosthetic knees and legs. He wants to help others and says “winning a medal or prize is one level but when you can make a difference in someone’s life in a positive way that far exceeds any medal you can win.”
This year, in 2018, Mike Schultz took his first steps as a Paralympic athlete. Team USA voted to have him be the one to carry the American flag at the opening ceremony. What an achievement for someone who could have decided to quit in a wheelchair. When asked before the ceremony about his thoughts on being the flag bearer he said,
“To me, there’s two symbols for Team USA: the national anthem and the American flag. To be on the world stage carrying our flag and representing the U.S. Paralympic Team is a huge honor. I’ll be trying my hardest to hold back the tears during the Opening Ceremony.”
On opening night Mike Schultz entered the stadium beaming from ear to ear, waving the flag high with great pride and happiness.
“When you put on the red white and blue jersey for Team USA it’s more than just a jersey, it means that you are part of something bigger. You’re representing your country and I have the possibility of making our National Anthem play on top of the podium at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in South Korea.”
Mike had said before the competitions began. On the 12th of March the Jeongseon Alpine Center was abuzz with snowboard fans out to witness the first day of Para-snowboard cross. The top para athletes battled it out to a race to the finish which was exhilarating to watch. Team USA won 6 medals and Mike won Gold in the LL1 category, his first medal at a Paralympic Game. And the American National anthem did indeed play to honor Mikes prowess. In the second para snowboarding competition – Banked Slalom Mike won his second medal, a silver. On winning his second medal he said,
“I saw myself over and over on top of the podium but on game day here, the only thing I really thought about was putting my best runs down when it mattered. In snowboard-cross, I did it and came home with the gold and today, I was able to chip away at my time a little bit but just wasn’t quite fast enough. Noah ran an incredible run and I just couldn’t quite match it. I’m super pumped and excited to share the podium with my teammate again.”
Para snowboarding is a nascent sport with constant modifications and innovations taking place. Countries invest big money to develop technology that will give their athletes better gear, prosthetics and in some way a competitive edge. This access to technology exists at varying levels for athletes. The partnerships with big tech companies is usually made public but the actual details of what is being developed is usually a secret. Inventing a high performance prosthetic like the ‘Moto Knee’ and ‘Versa Foot’ allowed Mike to jump back into competition. Shultz has won X-Games gold medals and also a Championship win in the pro vet class against able bodied competitors. His teammates on the para snowboarding team are all riding on his inventions. Amy Purdy co founder of Adaptive Action Sports and a big campaigner for para snowboarding inclusion in the Paralympics had this to say about Mike,
“Mike has been such an incredible representative. He built our feet, its amazing. Our sport has been elevated because of the work Mike Shultz does. And he’s even building legs for his competitors. That is his legacy. He has done so much for our sport, the Paralympics and adaptive sports. I wouldn’t have won these medals if it weren’t for the feet that he built for me.”
Finishing strong with two medals in PyeongChang Mike said,
“I want to give a huge thank you to friends and family back home for cheering me on, staying up all night long to watch me race and compete. Its all about finding a goal and going after it. That’s the advice I want to give to everyone out there. Its been a long road and to finally be here with two Paralympic medals is unbelievable!”
In 2010, Mike Shultz was inducted into the Athletes with Disabilities Network (ADN) Hall of Fame in United States of America. He also received the organization’s Roger McCarville Male Athlete of the Year award. His name will go down in history as the man who created the legs that the entire US Paralympic para snowboarding team wore on their road to victory.