Mike Schultz celebrates at the Paralympic Games Pyeongchang 2018 on March 12, 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Minnesota’s Mike Schultz had a better Paralympic Winter Games debut in March than he could ever have imagined.
A decade after having his left leg amputated following a professional snocross race accident, he won Paralympic gold in snowboardcross, silver in banked slalom, and was selected by his Team USA peers to carry the American flag into the Opening Ceremony last March in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“Monster” Mike, the first to have won a gold medal at the X Games and Winter X Games, definitely lived up to his name on the Paralympic stage.
He returned stateside to a horde of media requests and an ESPY Award.
The 37-year-old’s biggest feat, however, was simple. He loved being able to finally call himself a Paralympian.
“When I crossed the line to win my gold medal, it was just an overwhelming feeling, and I flashed back to everything that had happened,” Schultz said.
“After the Games, to be able to go back to the Olympic Training Center as an actual Paralympian and being able to call myself a Paralympian was a cool addition to my title. I’d been talking about it for three-plus years. To finally get it done, and to do well, was my biggest personal accomplishment as an athlete.”
What more could Schultz ask for?
He had reached the pinnacle of his sport, all while raising a daughter with his wife and managing a company that provided the entire U.S. Paralympic snowboarding team with their prosthetic knees and feet.
“At the end of the Games, my initial plan was to be done with snowboardcross to pursue some other things,” Schultz said. “But then, after thinking about it and how well everything went, I thought, there’s one thing I haven’t done really well at yet.
And that brings us to the 2018-19 season, which for Schultz, will begin this week.
Schultz will take to the hill for his first major snowboarding competition since the Games when the third stop of this season’s World Para Snowboard World Cup begins in Pyha, Finland on Friday. The Finnish resort, which has a training slope called “Polar Madness” because of its ability to test riders, will also play host to the 2019 world championships in March. Hence, Schultz’s strategy behind choosing Pyha as his first world cup competition during what will be an abbreviated season for him.
In the LL1 classification for athletes with a significant lower-limb impairment, Schultz will face stiff competition this season from 20-year-old Dutch rider Chris Vos, the reigning world champion in both snowboardcross and banked slalom, and 21-year-old American Noah Elliott, the defending Paralympic champion in banked slalom.
Both are nearly half Schultz’s age and pushing the sport to new heights.
“I’m not a young spring chicken anymore,” Schultz joked. “These young kids are coming up and definitely getting faster and faster, but I’m going to keep trying to give them a run for their money.”
In his abbreviated season, Schultz will compete in just two world cups — Pyha and Big White, British Columbia — prior to the world championships.
For the first time, he’ll also be racing competitively in snow biking — riding on a bike with two skis instead of tires — in hopes of partaking in January’s Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.
Schultz, a lifetime lover of action sports and a six-time X Games champion, has had no trouble with the snow bike’s learning curve. He trains on his home snow in Minnesota alongside other snow bikers, and his gym routine for Para snowboarding crosses over well. He now just adds a little more cardio to his program and works to compartmentalize each sport into his weekly calendar.
That calendar for 2019, though, is quickly filling up between competitions, work projects and family commitments.
“That’s definitely the biggest challenge,” Schultz said. “I have to keep my business going, so that takes up the first half of my day at least. Then I shift gears and go train, and then I come home and take care of my little girl, who just turned 5.”
At this point in time, a potential run at the 2022 Games in Beijing is still too far off in the distance.
“I haven’t made a hard decision yet,” Schultz said. "I’m just taking it one season at a time. This year, I’m here for the world championships, and we’ll see how it goes after that.”
What Schultz has made up his mind about, however, is the legacy he wants to leave on the Paralympic Movement.
As the founder and owner of BioDapt Inc., which has been instrumental in the development of prosthetics for action sports athletes and wounded soldiers, he’s been working on an improvement to the Versa Foot, already named one of the Top 10 Inventions of 2013 by Popular Science magazine.
Schultz’s ultimate goal is to evolve adaptive sports equipment and help out a handful of athletes along the way so they can “perform as close to normal as possible.”
“In the end, I would love to be watching adaptive athletes and be trying to figure out if they’re an arm amputee or a double leg amputee,” he said. “I would love to be sitting there watching and questioning altogether, ‘What’s even different about them?’"