From Jan. 2013 to Feb. 2014, the 14 months leading up to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, "14 for 14" will profile 14 athletes who hope to make the U.S. team for the Games. Visit USParalympics.org on the 14th of each month for the latest "14 for 14".
I am Michael Shea, a hopeful for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in snowboarding, a discipline of alpine skiing. I have four world cup medals and a bronze medal from the 2012 world championship.
In September 2002, while wakeboarding with friends in Castaic, Calif., a rope became wrapped around my left ankle. The amputation of my left leg changed my life but I have learned how to embrace my disability. It ultimately brought me more opportunity. Because of that, I am doing more with one leg than I ever did with two legs.
Here are 14 things you need to know as I strive toward Sochi:
1. This year will be my 16th season on a snowboard.
Every year, it somehow gets better and better. Each season I wonder I've reached my peak potential and yet every year I continue to progress in ways I never thought possible. I hope to be this stoked on snowboarding when I am 50 years old.
2. One of my favorite things to do is cook.
A few years ago I was influenced by a fellow U.S. teammate to live a healthier lifestyle and since then I developed a love for healthy foods and a passion for cooking. I spend almost as much time in the kitchen preparing meals as I do on the mountain.
3. I am overly obsessed with the state of Colorado.
I grew up in Los Angeles and as a kid it was my dream to live in a mountain town. Never in a million years did I think that I would be living in the middle of the Colorado Rockies. I moved here for the winters but fell in love because of the summers. I even have a Colorado playlist on my iPod consisting of songs like “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver.
4. I made custom furniture in my garage.
Once a "woodworking geek", Michael Shea made this chair in his garage
A lot of people don't know this about me but for years I was a woodworking geek. I taught myself everything there is to know about machinery and the art of furniture making.
5. I do not have winter friendly wheels.
I am a below knee amputee driving a manual transmission, rear wheel drive truck with bald tires in the middle of winter. If you see a white pickup truck with California plates sliding through your neighborhood stop sign, sorry that’s me! I hope to have a 4WD by next year.
6. I love to snowboard in the park.
I grew up hitting jumps and rails in Big Bear, Calif. Back home we don't get much snow so most of my days were spent riding park with friends. My freestyle background has really helped to influence the style of riding that I have today.
7. I love animals.
I have 6-year-old English Pointer mix dog. Since the day I got him we would go everywhere together and he is my pride and joy. Last September, I had to leave him with my parents in California so that I can train for Sochi. I am counting down the days until he can come back to join me in Colorado for some hiking in the spring.
8. Snowboarding is not my only job.
Not only am I an athlete this season but I am holding a full time job as development snowboard coach at the National Sports Center for the Disabled. This job has given me the wonderful opportunity to play a key role in the overall development of para-snowboarding as well as teach the fundamentals of snowboard cross to new and emerging athletes. After Sochi, I plan to kick start my career in adaptive snow sports. If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.
9. Since I am such a tech geek, I love to tune my snowboards.
Recently I have spent a lot of time researching proper waxing and tuning techniques for racing. I can spend hours tuning my board in the kitchen, at least until I have to hear about metal and wax shavings ending up in my girlfriend’s food.
10. I spend way too much time on Facebook.
We live in a digital world where we are always sharing photos, videos and information via social networks. It’s easy to get carried away but I try to remind myself to take a break from all of that by interacting with people on a more personal level.
11. You will never catch me without a beanie or hat on.
I have a whole book shelf dedicated to hats and beanies from Coal Headwear. It’s just a weird thing that I have always done. At least it helps me to save money on haircuts.
12. My mother has never seen me compete in a single event.
It’s an agreement that we have had since I was little. My whole life I have been a mama’s boy and we have always shared a great relationship. Whenever my mother would show up at my races, I would get hurt. For some reason I get into that "look mom" mentality and I can't focus. Plus she gets nervous when watching and it is better for both of us if she just stays home and waits for the results. Maybe one day she will show up at one of my races without telling me.
13. I am deathly afraid of ski lifts.
For some reason being suspended on a cable 100 feet above the ground through a windy snowstorm isn't my favorite thing to do. Although I do it every day of my life, I am big on overcoming my fears so I get on the lift every morning at 9am. This doesn't mean that I am not constantly looking for an exit route into the trees if something catastrophic were to happen.
14. My life changed again in May 2012.
When I found out last May that para-snowboarding was going to be added to the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, I think I might have cried a little bit. It is every athletes dream to represent their country at an Olympic or Paralympic level. Now I'm one step closer to turning those dreams into a reality.