Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
In 2008 X Games Snocross racer Mike Shultz was in the prime of his career. A Minnesota-born athlete, Schultz grew up racing motor and snocross and was finding success on the pro circuit after battling his way up through the amateur ranks. During the second half of the 2008 racing season at an ISOC National Snocross race, Shultz lost control of his snowmobile and crashed, badly.
For the next several days Mike Schultz and his family persevered through a number of efforts to save his leg and his life. Ultimately, after complications and a prognosis that the leg was not repairable, Schultz made the decision to move forward with an amputation above his left knee.
“As an athlete to hear that prognosis from the doctor was hard, I wasn’t prepared for it,” explains Schultz. “I was unsure of what my future would hold, but I knew if I moved forward with the amputation that I would survive, and that was the main goal at the time.”
Schultz was approaching a proverbial fork in the roads, but with his family by his side he made the decision to face the challenge head-on and with a positive attitude.
Clearly having a prosthetic hasn’t stopped Mike from ripping. Photo: Chris Tedesco/ESPN Images
“There were some days here and there when life really sucked, but I kept telling myself that this was the profession I chose and I knew that this was a risk,” says Schultz. “Even though the recovery process was more in-depth, by looking at it like any other injury, I knew I could recover from it and keep going.”
And that’s just what he did. After learning how to walk on a prosthetic in the hospital Mike began designing his own custom prosthetic that would allow him to do the things he loved, which included getting back on his snowmobile and competing. Schultz used the amputation as motivation, pushing himself to prove he could return to racing He was back on his snowmobile competing within three months of his accident.
After Schultz’s first race post-accident it became evident he would need to design and develop his own custom prosthetic if he wanted compete at the level he knew he was capable of. While he doesn’t hold a formal engineering degree, Schultz has spent his entire life around machines built to perform at the highest level. He let his intuitive understanding of mechanics guide his process and the prosthetic project became a guiding light in his mission to stay focused on positivity during his recovery process.
Mike with his favorite board and custom prosthetic. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
“I tried to just keep myself positive and focused on my new goals and designing my own leg really helped with that process,” says Schultz. “I’ve always been really intrigued by suspension components, and that’s how I approached designing my own leg. I wanted to jump out of the sky and land hard and be able to perform specific movements, and I figured out the body mechanics that would allow me to ride naturally and developed my prosthetic around that.”
Schultz used a mountain bike shock with compressed air to function as a sort of shock system for his leg, the suspension bounding up-and-down and springing back into place after impact much like a knee would. He then developed a link system that he patented that allowed him the range of motion necessary to move his leg efficiently while racing.
Schultz talks about the leg he designed at Winter X Games Photo:Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images
His leg was so innovative and successful that Schultz started his own company Biodapt, which designs and manufactures functional prosthetics for both adaptive athletes and veterans. And Schultz’s Biodapt prosthetic leg design has proven wildly successful: Schultz is now the most decorated adaptive athlete in X Games history, winning 8 gold medals in both adaptive snocross and motocross.
But Schultz is always looking for new ways to push himself and a new motivation presented itself when an adaptive snowboarder approached him about making a custom prosthetic.
“It’s crazy, I didn’t snowboard before my accident, but I wanted to design a leg that allows snowboarders to get back out on the hill,” states Schultz. “And now I’m competing with the best snowboarders in the world.”
Through the development process of designing a prosthetic knee and foot that would allow snowboarders to enjoy their sport, Schultz got hooked on the sport and took to it with the same passion and dedication that he put into his snowmobile and motocross career.
He began competing in adaptive snowboard-cross with athletes that had been competing for decades. The learning curve was steep, but he found success by using the challenge of learning a new sport to fuel his passion. Competitive dedication paid off for Schultz as he won the 2017 U.S. Paralympics National Snowboard Championships, and will now be heading to South Korea to represent the United States at the 2018 Paralympic Games.
Schultz rips into a turn at Winter X. Photo: Eric Lars/ESPN Images
“It’s crazy, snowboarding is something that is totally new to me and it has had such a steep learning curve,” says Schultz. “What makes it so special is all of the hard work I have had to put into it, and to be able to go to and possibly win the Paralympics would be a huge accomplishment.”
Schultz has found competitive success, owns and operates a thriving business, and is now representing his country as Paralympic athlete. However, it is his humility, kindness and infectious positivity that truly set him apart.
Waiting for race results at the finish line. Photo: Gabriel Christus/ESPN Images
While Schultz could grandstand about his own accomplishments, he doesn’t. It’s evident that what he truly derives joy from is helping other athletes accomplish their own goals - whether that’s competing at an elite level or just getting back onto the mountain for the first time. Schultz will head to South Korea and compete as an Olympian, may well find further success as an X Games athlete and recently graced the cover of a Frosted Flakes box.
Schultz’s story can be used to inspire anyone facing adversity, to remind us all that even in the worst of times there is light, and that no matter how bumpy the path gets that we can all rise up and face our challenges with positivity and courage. Victory may be sweet, but what Mike Schultz has found is that helping others is the true essence of glory.
“It’s extremely rewarding that the majority of the U.S. Paralympics Snowboard Team is using either the knee of foot prosthetic I designed while they are riding,” enthuses Schultz. “It’s a win-win for sure.”
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