Each month, Team USA Awards presented by Dow celebrates the outstanding achievements of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Para snowboarder Mike Schultz won Male Athlete of the Month for November 2017, during which he won a gold medal in banked slalom at the World Para Snowboard World Cup in Landgraaf, Netherlands, upsetting the world champion in the process. In Schultz’s Diamond Club feature, presented by Dow, he discusses how his willingness to adapt to changing circumstances has augmented his mental game.
Mike Schultz admits he’s thought about what his life would look like today if the accident had never happened. If he hadn’t been thrown from his snowmobile during a snocross race in Michigan that day in December 2008. If the impact with the ground hadn’t snapped his left leg. If the resulting compound fracture hadn’t required amputation above the knee.
“I don’t know if I’d be racing at this point,” Schultz mused this week from his home in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. “I think I would probably be involved in one way or another, as a coach or crew chief or something like that. Or maybe I’d be in the shop.
I’ve got two sides to my personality: One is being a real competitive athlete, and the other is that I really enjoy being in the shop and designing and developing things.”
His struggle following the accident — a “what now?” crisis for a man known on the professional snowmobiling circuit as “Monster Mike” — eventually led him to establish a business and take up Para snowboarding. These surprisingly intertwined activities appeal to the competitive and creative sides of his nature, and have helped hone the mental toughness on display when he competes.
“If you’ve got an issue or a problem in front of you or you want to accomplish something, you’ve really got to lay out your goal and path to get there and kind of work your way backwards,” Schultz said. “It’s always the same process: What is my goal? What is my long-term goal and what is my short-term goal? What do I have to accomplish to meet those? It’s the same formula for pretty much everything.”
After 2008, his goal was simple: Schultz wanted to continue doing the sports he loved. Long term, that would mean finding a way to compensate for the loss of his leg. So in the short term, he got to work in his garage creating what would become the Moto Knee, a prosthetic leg that acts like an engaged quadriceps muscle, ideal for holding one’s body weight up under impact.
His mechanical engineering credentials? A ninth-grade drafting class — and the patience to tinker until it worked.
“Other than that it’s just all real-time experience being a problem solver,” he said. “With my experience with racing snowmobiles and dirt bikes, I really understood the mechanics of suspension components. What better project than to build my own leg?”
Mike Schultz competes in the adaptive banked slalom final at the Dew Tour on Dec. 15, 2017 in Breckenridge, Colo.
The result was a prosthetic with “this spring resistance so I can sit down into it and it’s going to hold me up,” he said. After creating the initial prototypes, Schultz realized the potential implications for amputees, especially those involved in sports. That’s when he created his company, BioDapt.
“One of my goals was to make this equipment versatile for as many sports as possible, and I knew that snowboarding and skiing were very popular as adaptive sports,” he said. “So in order for me to develop this equipment, I needed to learn how to snowboard myself.”
In the name of research and development, Schultz and the Moto Knee headed to Copper Mountain in Colorado in 2010 and began riding with Adaptive Action Sports, a group founded by Amy Purdy and her now-husband Daniel Gale to help people with physical disabilities get involved in action sports.
It was a rough debut. Schultz had difficulty getting used to having full control over only one of his legs.
“To put it in simple form, I wrecked a lot,” he laughed. “But I started figuring it out and realized, ‘Man, this is a lot of fun.’”
Like with the development of the Moto Knee, trying different tactics paid off. He began competing seriously after the Sochi Games in 2014.
Set a goal. Make a plan. Follow through.
The formula Schultz used to get back on his feet after the accident also helped his business grow and has made him one of Team USA’s top hopefuls in snowboardcross and banked slalom heading into the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
Business comes before training, though: When he’s not traveling, Schultz spends his mornings communicating with clients and assembling orders in his workshop. Afternoons are typically reserved for the gym and the slope.
His never-say-die attitude has not deserted him, even after he shattered his heel bone in a crash at the 2015 Winter X Games. Losing a lot of mobility in his foot set him back more, but Schultz kept his focus on working back into being the best he can be. His reward came at this year’s world championships, in the form of a silver medal in banked slalom, as well as on the world cup circuit this winter, where he has already won multiple golds.
“Let’s just say I have adapted to my new circumstances,” he said. “It’s definitely not 100 percent. But I’ve figured out how to make it work, and that made everything else stronger around it.”
Spoken like a master of adaptation.