Mike Schultz competes in the men's snowboard cross SB-LL1 during the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 12, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.
When Mike Schultz had his left leg amputated above the knee following a snocross race accident in 2008, he quickly discovered two things about prosthetics.
First, there were few options for action sports athletes like himself. Second, the only ones available were for downhill skiers and mountain bikers. The skiing prosthetic didn’t have enough range of motion at the knee joint. The other didn’t have the geometry to absorb major impacts.
That’s when Schultz, who won a gold and silver medal in Para snowboarding at the Paralympic Games PyeongChang 2018, decided to design his own prosthetic. That might seem a daunting task for most people. But for Schultz, the idea came as naturally as breathing. He’s had a mechanical mindset for as long as he can remember.
“Growing up on a farm in the country, I was always in the shop with my dad helping him out welding things together, fixing tractors, four-wheelers and farm equipment,” recalled Schultz, a native of Minnesota. “I always wanted to figure out how things worked and try to make them better, faster, stronger.”
Schultz, aka Monster Mike for his aggressive riding style, put that same intensity into building his prosthetic. He began developing what eventually became the Moto Knee, which he constructed using aluminum components and shocks found in Fox mountain bikes. The fundamental goal is to absorb impact similar to a suspension component on a motocross bike, mountain bike or snowmobile. A spring that acts as a quadricep muscle helps extend the knee joint.
“When you’re flying through the air, you need to plant on the ground and absorb that energy,” Schultz explained. “In order to flex, I’ve got to shift my weight into it, and the spring helps return it. Compare that to an everyday walking leg where there is no spring assist to it. It can just swing back and forth as you’re walking.”
It took Schultz about a year before he had a production model he felt comfortable with. In 2010 he formed his own company, BioDapt Inc., and has produced prosthetics for hundreds of customers since. Many of them are elite athletes, including teammates and opponents in Para snowboarding.
Schultz also developed the Versa Foot, which can be combined with the Moto Knee for shock absorption, flexibility and strength in the ankle.
“For those action sport activities where you’re constantly jumping up and down or squatting up and down, you need that range of motion to keep the sole of the foot planted on the ground,” Schultz said.
At age 13, Schultz began racing BMX bikes with friends. At 15, he got his first dirt bike and began competing in motocross racing. That’s when he became hooked on action sports.
“My junior and senior year, everything I did revolved around trying to get to the races over the weekend,” he recalled.
During a snowmobile race in December 2008, Schultz was thrown from his machine. The impact hyperextended his left leg so severely doctors were forced to amputate above the knee. As devastating as the accident was, Schultz had one goal that kept him going: find a way to get back to doing the sports he loved.
“Obviously, nobody wants to hear their lives are going to change and you’re now going to become an amputee,” he said. “I could have let it consume me and drag me down, or I could just accept it right away and move on one step at a time towards the next goal.”
Following the accident, Schultz became the first athlete to win a gold medal at the X Games and Winter X Games. He became acquainted with Adaptive Action Sports, a Colorado-based nonprofit founded by Dan Gale and three-time Paralympic medalist Amy Purdy, and tried snowboarding. The experience was both scary and exhilarating. It also allowed Schultz to test and market his prosthetics to other athletes.
Gale and Purdy convinced him to work toward becoming a Para snowboarder. He began competing following the Paralympic Games Sochi 2014, capturing silver in banked slalom and finishing fourth in snowboardcross at the 2017 world championships.
After qualifying for PyeongChang, Schultz won gold in snowboardcross and silver in banked slalom. At the first world cup race in Landgraaf, Netherlands, to kick off the 2021-22 season late last month, he captured two silvers in SB-LL1.
Some athletes may be reluctant to create a product that enhances the performance of their competitors. But Schultz has managed to successfully combine his business skills with the competitiveness required of an elite athlete.
“I’ve got two hats,” he explained. “I’ve got the athlete hat and the businessman hat. It’s tricky, a fine line. In my mind, the bigger picture is what I’m doing to help adaptive sports overall. It’s much bigger than my gold medal run. It’s helping people get out and accomplish more.”
As for the future of BioDapt, Schultz has no plans to slow down regardless of how long he intends to compete after the Beijing Paralympic Games.
“We can’t be stagnant,” Schultz said. “We’ve got to continue to develop equipment all the time. We’ll continue to evolve the stuff we have right now and also add more equipment to different sports and activities.”