U.S. Paralympics Sno... Features After Two Paralympic...

After Two Paralympics, Michael Spivey Is Still Contemplating His Future

By Stephen Kerr | July 18, 2022, 2:11 p.m. (ET)

Michael Spivey competes at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. (Photo: Mark Reis)

When it was initially announced last February who would represent Team USA in snowboarding at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, Michael Spivey was disappointed, but not particularly surprised, his name wasn’t on the list.


There was one spot for the men’s upper-limb classification up for grabs, and Paralympic veteran Mike Minor locked it up with his performance on the world cup circuit. Spivey had posted top-10 finishes in both snowboardcross and banked slalom at the world championships in Lillehammer, Norway, in January, but he had not made the podium during the season.


The 41-year-old native of Abilene, Texas, was riding with a group of veterans on a Keystone, Colorado, mountain when he got the phone call that he had not been selected. He thought that was the end of it.


The next morning, Spivey was once again on the mountain when he noticed his phone was blowing up with calls, texts and emails from national team staff. Puzzled, he called Jessica Smith, associate director of U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding, to see what was up. Smith informed him that he had been selected for Beijing after all.


Spivey got his spot through a Bipartite Commission Invitation Allocation. The invitation is given by World Para Snowboard and the International Olympic Committee based on season performance.


“It basically knocked the hamster off the wheel,” Spivey said. “My brain stopped working. I had to stop halfway down the run because I wasn’t paying attention. I’m thinking about all the stuff I’ve got to do to play catch-up. I ended up taking myself off the hill because I’m probably going to hurt myself.”


Beijing would be Spivey’s second Paralympic Games. He finished 18th in both banked slalom and snowboardcross at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. His performance in Beijing was slightly better, placing 15th in banked slalom and 17th in snowboardcross.


“I’m still upset at myself because I barely missed (heats) both Games,” said Spivey, a retired sergeant of the U.S. Marine Corps who currently resides in San Diego. “I finished 18th in South Korea, and in four years the goal was to get on Team USA but was also more about making it into heats.”


While not overly athletic as a kid, Spivey briefly played baseball and ran cross-country. His parents divorced when he was a teenager, and he lived on his own as early as 16. It was a difficult time for Spivey, who often worked two jobs while going to school to support himself.


Military bloodlines ran deep in his family. His biological father, stepfather and grandfather served, but Spivey initially had no interest in following their lead.


“I didn’t want anything to do with the military,” Spivey said. “I had it imprinted in my brain if you go into the military, you were going to come back and be this horrible person.”


It was only after his mother, Debbie, married Bill Day that Spivey began to change his perspective. Bill, who served in the Army, had a completely opposite personality from what his stepson had been used to. At 25, Spivey decided to enlist in the Marine Corps.


While on his second deployment in 2010, Spivey was in Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. He suffered shrapnel injuries to his legs and back and lost his left arm below the elbow to amputation.


While undergoing rehabilitation, Spivey took up golf and surfing as an escape from the long hospital stay. He also was introduced to Daniel Gale and Amy Purdy, founders of Adaptive Action Sports, and discovered snowboarding. But it took some convincing before he began to seriously consider it as a competitive sport.


Spivey went through a particularly dark period during recovery. He lost several friends to suicide, illness and accidents. He even attempted suicide once himself. He finally decided a change of scenery was what he needed to get back on track. He packed his bags, got in his truck and drove to Colorado.


“My plan was to either go to Colorado and figure it out or freeze to death while sleeping in my truck,” Spivey said.


Adaptive Action Sports came to Spivey’s rescue. Some of the other development team members were injured Marines, and they took him in. But after three years of costly training and barely reaching the top-10 in competitions, he was reluctant to continue competing for a spot on the U.S. snowboarding team for the PyeongChang Games.


That’s when Kris, who was about to become his wife, stepped in.


“I’m not going to marry a quitter,” she told him. “I’m not going to listen to you for the next 40 years saying coulda, woulda shoulda.”


Even though he hasn’t made the podium at either of his Paralympic appearances, Spivey is glad she convinced him to go. He has built deep friendships with several younger members of the team, including Noah Elliott and Zach Miller. Spivey does his best to pass along nuggets of wisdom learned over his years of experience.


“They’re both super smart and amazing individuals,” Spivey said of Elliott and Miller. “I was happy to get to room with them and hang out with them. Half the time in the (Beijing) Village, we wore the same outfits and walked around doing the pin-trading thing. That was fun.”


Since returning from Beijing, Spivey has kept busy doing repairs and construction at his home following recent flooding. An avid surfer, he captured first place at the Oceanside USA Surfing Para Surf Championship. In 2020, he obtained certifications in computer numerically controlled machining and welding. He’d like to purchase a C&C machine to build surfboard blanks for adaptive surfers.


Spivey would be 45 by the time the 2026 Winter Paralympic Games are held in Italy. Although age won’t be what holds him back.


“A lot of it’s going to depend on finances,” he said. “I’m trying to talk my wife into letting me go for a third time.”

Stephen Kerr

Stephen Kerr is a freelance journalist and newsletter publisher based in Austin, Texas. He is a contributor to USParaSnowboarding.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. You can follow him on Twitter @smkwriter1.