|Mike Schultz will compete in his first international snowboarding competition wearing a prosthetic knee and foot he designed himself.|
Mike Schultz has always loved going fast and taking chances. He’s torn up motocross and snocross tracks in Summer and Winter X Games so well that he’s won seven medals, including six golds, both as an able-bodied athlete and, since 2008, an adaptive athlete.
But he says his first snowboard race was the scariest thing he’d ever done.
It was just Schultz vs. gravity and the slope. He felt a bit overmatched.
“I didn’t have a brake lever or a throttle,” he says, laughing.
When he’s racing motocross or in a snowmobile, he can adjust his speed with a flick of his wrist or a quick squeeze. He knows the sound of the engine and reacts instinctively to shift gears.
“But when I’m just strapped on a snowboard, it’s a whole different ballgame as far as making sure I’m at the right speed when I need to be,” he said. “And there’s no handlebar to hang on to. It’s all on your feet. And with me being an above-the-knee amputee, it’s a lot trickier. I don’t have the stability of having a set of handlebars in my hands.”
At that first adaptive boardercross race at the 2012 Winter X Games, Schultz came in fifth out of six racers. At one point he was in third, but he remembers catching an edge on “a really simple corner” and crashed. He had to hop his way up a hill to get back on the course and felt “ridiculous about it.”
Still, it was fun.
Now two years later, he’s on his way to Landgraaf in the Netherlands with the U.S. Paralympics snowboard team for an IPC competition. He’ll compete in banked slalom. He’s not yet officially a member of the U.S. program, but this will be his first time competing internationally in snowboard and his first time representing the U.S.
He’s equal parts excited and nervous.
“It’s definitely a little out of my element as far as traveling with this type of a team and this kind of competition,” said Schultz, 33, who lives in St. Cloud, Minnesota. “I’ve traveled around the world racing motorsports and I’m used to that, but this is a whole different deal. Going to Europe and racing indoors on a snowboard? Yeah, when I kind of take a step back and look at it, it is kind of nuts.”
He’ll be competing at the largest indoor ski/snowboard facility in the world. It offers 300 feet of vertical drop.
It will be only his third snowboard competition. After his X Games snowboard debut in 2012, he competed in boardercross at the U.S. championships at Copper Mountain this March, finishing fifth.
But now that the IPC has approved a new classification for above-knee amputees, he’s hopeful he can get to the podium now or in the near future.
It’s been difficult for above-knee amputees to be as fast as below-knee amputee snowboarders. Now with the new classification and new events added — such as the banked slalom — Schultz will try to make the U.S. team for the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
He still competes several times a year in motocross and snocross, but says snowboarding will be his priority now.
Accident in Snowmobile Race
Schultz was an able-bodied competitor in 2008 when he suffered a leg injury in a snowmobile race. He was thrown off his machine and his left leg was grossly hyperextended. He told a reporter for Wired magazine last year that he remembers being on the ground and “looking at the bottom of my boot on my chest.”
The leg was so damaged it had to be amputated.
At that point, Schultz — known in racing as “Monster Mike” — thought his athletic career was over. But he got back on the bike and snowmobile and continued to compete after coming up with his own prosthetic leg design. He wasn’t satisfied with the ones on the market, so he created his own.
In fact, he now has a company, BioDapt Inc., that creates prosthetics for both below- and above-knee amputees. The Moto Knee, which he uses, is designed for high-impact and high-speed athletic competition. The Versa Foot — which can be combined with the Moto Knee — allows for shock absorption, flexibility and strength.
Schultz’s work on these products helped lead him into competing on the slopes. He had spent some time learning to snowboard on a small hill in Minnesota with his prosthetics. He then spent time at Copper Mountain in 2011 boarding on a big mountain for the first time and was hooked.
“Being able to go to the top of the mountain and just carve your way down and be dead tired by the time you get to the bottom is pretty amazing,” he said.
Today, the biggest consumers for his devices are snowboarders. Before the national championships in March, he worked with coaches from Adaptive Action Sports and Paralympic snowboard champion Evan Strong, demonstrating what the equipment does and learning how to make it better.
“They showed me some pointers and we got on the course a couple of times and they were like, ‘Why don’t you just compete?’ ” he recalled.
That’s when he entered nationals. Also this year, he took part in a U.S. Snowboarding camp with Paralympics snowboard coach Miah Wheeler. That led to this first international snowboard competition.
At the same time his snowboarding career may be ready to take off, his work with BioDapt also is gaining new fans. Strong, for instance, is now using the Versa Foot and Schultz says “he’s just flying on it.”
Says Schultz: “This is going to be a really fun adventure over the next few years.”
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 TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.