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One Paralympic Winter Games Wasn’t Enough For Michael Spivey

By Bob Reinert | Jan. 19, 2021, 7:42 p.m. (ET)

As 2020 drew to a close, Michael Spivey celebrated his 40th birthday. Almost anywhere else, he still would be considered a young man, but in the world of Para snowboarding, that makes him nearly twice as old as many of his competitors.

“I imagine,” said Spivey, “they’re going to give me a hard time about being old.”

The young snowboarders should enjoy the laughs while they can. When they hit the snowboardcross or banked slalom course, they better be ready for Spivey, the former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant and combat engineer, because he’s not going anywhere for a long time.

“As far as competing goes, I’m hoping to make the (2022 U.S. Paralympic Team),” said Spivey, who wants another taste of what he experienced as a member of the U.S. team at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

“Overall, it was an amazing experience,” Spivey recalled. “The opening ceremony, that was phenomenal. It’s just insane.

“I didn’t fully believe that I was ever going to make it to the 2018 Games. My wife actually convinced me to go back that last year and at least give it a shot.”

Spivey placed 18th in both banked slalom and snowboardcross in South Korea. That followed his 2017 world championship debut, when he was 11th in snowboardcross and 14th in banked slalom.

“I was planning on retiring after the 2018 Games,” Spivey admitted.

The Winter Games made such an impression that he decided to forge ahead with his career. It’s not a decision he made lightly, however. Every competitive season can be quite costly.

“I’ve actually done the math, and it’s close to $40,000 a year,” Spivey said. “I save a lot of money, just because I know that it’s a pretty hefty amount to make this happen.”

For the first year or so of his career, the funds came out of his own pocket. Then he met his now wife, Kris, who encouraged him to reach out for help from such organizations as Move United, the Semper Fi Fund, the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the Warrior Foundation Freedom Station.

Medically retired from the Marine Corps, Spivey’s retirement pays the mortgage for his home in San Diego the rest of the year when he’s not snowboarding with Adaptive Action Sports out of Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Frisco, Colorado.

“I’m a beach bum in the summer and a snow bum in the winter,” Spivey said. 

A third-generation Marine, Spivey joined the Corps in 2005. After he was initially stationed in Okinawa, he deployed to Iraq. One night while returning to base, his truck was hit by an improvised explosive device. Fortunately, he was uninjured in the attack.

During his next deployment, to Afghanistan, Spivey’s luck ran out. On a foot patrol in Sangin, Helmand Province, on December 10, 2010, another IED detonated, severely wounding his left arm and spraying shrapnel into his back and legs. Eventually, the arm was amputated below the elbow.

Through his recreational therapist, Spivey found adaptive sports to deal with the pain of rehabilitation. He attended the 2011 Ski Spectacular at Breckenridge and became hooked on snowboarding.

While COVID-19 has made everything more complicated this winter, Spivey continues to train hard in Colorado. He’s on the snow several hours a day, five days a week, followed by gym workouts, stretching and occasional trampoline work.

Spivey is staying as fit as possible, although the competitive season is filled with uncertainty.

“A lot of the events are getting canceled,” Spivey said. “Some of them are still kind of tentative.”

Meanwhile, Spivey is looking at the positives of this strange year: He’s saving money, and the lack of competitions means more time for intense training.

“It’s going to give us so many extra days of riding without having to travel,” Spivey said. “That’s the way I look at it.”

He’s got one more shot at the Paralympics and wants to take his best one. To prepare for life beyond sport, he obtained certifications last summer in computer numerically controlled machining and welding with an eye toward working with robotic arms.

Spivey will be 42 after the 2022 Games. He will be done as a competitor, but not as an athlete. You’ll probably continue to find him on the mountain and in the gym. He still has that shrapnel in his 40-year-old body, after all.

“That,” said Spivey, “keeps everything from stiffening up.” 

Bob Reinert

Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to USParaSnowboarding.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Michael Spivey