Mike Shea won a silver medal in snowboarding at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, which marked the debut of the event.
Mike Shea's winter to remember
Mike Shea competes at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games on March 14.
In February, Mike Shea won the first overall para-snowboard world cup season championship.
A month later, Shea stood on the podium with a silver medal in the Paralympic debut of snowboard cross in Sochi. Then, in April, he again was on the podium, after finishing second in the national championships at Copper Mountain in Colorado.
Just a few months into 2014, and Shea, 30, already had scored a career’s worth of hardware, all collected while going head-to-head not only with the best snowboarders from around the globe, but from his own team.
When Shea took the overall title for the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Para-Snowboard World Cup of 2013-14 in February in La Molina, Spain, teammates Evan Strong (second) and Keith Gabel (fourth) also were in the running. In Sochi, it was Strong (gold) and Gabel (bronze) by his side. And at Copper, it was the same trio in the same order.
Now that Shea’s memorable season is over and he has some time to look back, the fact he was able to share it all with his teammates makes it even more special.
“We are a real team, and especially because we train together all the time,” he said. “That’s what I think has created such a big strength against other countries. … We have three of the top athletes in the world. And we’re not from different places, so we don’t just show up every now and then and compete against each other. We actually get to train with each other, so we’re pushing each other beyond what we ever thought was possible, and I think that’s why we’re such a strong team. We get to work together as athletes and best friends.”
Shea — who lost his left leg below the knee in a wakeboarding accident in 2002 — said the American sweep in Sochi was something he and his teammates had talked about and worked toward but knew would be difficult to pull off. When they did finish 1-2-3, Shea said it was almost too much to believe.
“Right before the medal ceremony, we got to sit in the green room and kind of soak it all in, and we just kind of looked at each other over and over again and we couldn’t believe it,” Shea said. “Just before we walked out on stage for the medal ceremony, we could hear the crowd out there, and we just looked at each other and we went, ‘Oh, we did it. We did it.’
“We talked about it for so long, but we didn’t think it was going to be, ever come true. For us to finally be there was … it was pretty surreal.”
It’s tough to top a silver medal in the debut of a sport at the Paralympic Winter Games, but Shea says the overall world cup championship he clinched in La Molina in February is probably the pinnacle of what he’s done so far in his career.
Shea won four gold medals and a silver medal over the course of the world cup season, so it was a long stretch of excellence that secured the world cup title trophy — a crystal globe — in the first year it was up for grabs.
“We’ve been racing for years, and this was the first opportunity we had to compete for something like that,” Shea said. “And I didn’t even know it was going to be a possibility (to win) until about midway through the season, and then I realized that I had had some good results and there was a possibility for me to take home the globe.
“So getting that in Spain was definitely a cool opportunity, and the trophy itself — the crystal globe — it’s pretty cool looking. That’s one of my most-prized possessions.”
Shea, who moved back to his roots in Southern California after years in Colorado, said he’s had plenty of time to relax and reflect since returning from the Games.
He did return to competition at the U.S. Paralympics Snowboard Cross National Championships at Copper Mountain, but he said that event — compared with Sochi and the world cup and the lead-up to the Games — was a much more low-key affair.
It was a chance to re-connect with Strong and Gabel, watch and talk to some of the country’s best up-and-coming boarders and put a cap on the long season.
“There was no pressure,” Shea said. “It was kind of a relaxed atmosphere, and it was just our teammates competing against each other, so it was actually more like a fun event than it was a competitive event, and I really enjoyed it.”
With a move back to Southern California, where he’ll be closer to family, Shea is contemplating some changes.
He knows for certain he’d like to get back to the next Winter Games in South Korea in 2018. But he’s also toying with the idea of trying to train for the summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, perhaps in cycling or track and field. He wants to talk to some people in those sports, and also his high-performance director, before he makes a decision about what to pursue, but it’s a prospect that has him excited.
“I wouldn’t say I have a good chance at it because I’ve never actually participated in any summer Paralympic sports, but I definitely do want to give it a shot,” he said.
It would be a change of pace after the year-round winter training (including Southern Hemisphere boarding) he’s been doing over the past four-year cycle.
“It would be nice to get away from that and try something new,” Shea said. “It’s always good for the mind and body to try something new like that.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for USParalympics.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.