Andreas Schulz competes at the 2022 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships. (Photo: Rick Stephens)
As spring of 2020 turned to summer, Andreas Schulz was spending Father’s Day morning four-wheeling in the West Virginia mountains with his dad and his brother.
Schulz broke away from his family to seek higher ground for some cellular coverage so he could call his friends back in Florida. Just wanted to say “hi” to his pals.
Afterwards, he headed back down the mountain on the gravel trails. That’s when life changed for the soon-to-be sophomore at University High School in Orlando.
Schulz’s ATV began to lose control at approximately 30 mph. Attempting to correct the skid, he veered into a tree.
Flying over the handlebars, the left side of Schulz’s body took the full impact of the tree before he spun 50 feet down the side of the mountain.
“Imagine getting the wind knocked out of you, times a thousand,” Schulz, a football player, said. “I was scared right away, then realized I couldn’t feel my (left) arm. I thought it was broken at first, as I’d broken that arm before and had the same feeling.”
After being found by his dad, Schulz was taken to the hospital. There was plenty of damage — fractured vertebrae in his neck and back, ruptured spleen, collapsed lung, fractured ribs.
While his arm wasn’t broken, there was significant damage. Upon returning to Orlando, a visit to a specialist confirmed the extent of the damage — Schulz had suffered a brachial plexus injury. The brachial plexus is the network of nerves that sends signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm and hand.
“They found out that I had torn the nerves from my spine and that I had permanently injured my arm,” Schulz said.
Schulz had surgery that autumn, which ended his football playing days.
“It was hard at first, realizing that I couldn’t do some of the things, like contact sports, that I had done before,” he said. “I loved playing football, but the fact that I could still compete in some sports helped me stay levelheaded.”
Schulz had participated in track and field before the accident, competing in the in the 100-meter, the 110-meter hurdles, the 300-meter hurdles and the long jump. He also had the pedigree with his dad, Andy, having done the decathlon collegiately at the University of Wisconsin.
Doctors confirmed that Schulz could run without risk, and his life veered again. It was too painful and awkward to run just letting his left arm hang, according to Schulz. But some research by his father led to the work of Para athlete Dan Aldrich.
Aldrich suffered a similar injury in his youth and had developed a fully customizable arm sling that would solve Schulz’s discomfort and allow him to proceed running track.
“The sling fully disables my arm and holds it to my body. It feels like I have no arm when running,” Schulz said. “The hardest part about learning how to run track again was staying balanced in the starting blocks. After that, muscle memory kicked in.”
In February 2021, less than eight months removed from the crash and three-plus months after the surgery, Schulz was back on the track.
“He’s such a phenomenal athlete,” Kelly, Schulz’s mom, said. “He was doing really well. He didn’t have state qualifying times but was winning races all year.”
Schulz was competing against able-bodied athletes when he first returned to track and field after the surgery. Florida had reintroduced an adaptive classification that season, and Schulz was offered the opportunity to compete as a Para athlete in the ambulatory division, debuting at the district race that April. He ran the 200 unopposed in both districts and regionals before facing two other Para athletes at the state meet. He won that too, setting the new state record time of 24.05 seconds.
The next season, Schulz set a new state record with a time of 23.80 at regionals. He returned to state, this time competing against 11 other Para athletes, and won again with a time of 24.37 — nearly 2.5 seconds faster than the rest of the field. He added a second state championship, winning the 800-meter run in another state record time of 2 minutes, 20.52 seconds.
Schulz had overcome the obstacles set in front of him and emerged atop the medal stand. It was time for a new challenge.
“Sports has always been a very big passion of mine and keeps my life in order,” he said. “Being able to run again got me motivated to get back in the motion of life.”
Schulz’s high school coach, Lisa Eggert, was also certified as a coach in Para athletics. Through some research and networking by Lisa and Andy, Schulz found out he had the opportunity to compete in the 2022 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships in Miramar, Florida.
It was Schulz’s chance to shine on the big stage. However, there was a catch. His events, the 200 and 800, were not run in his T46 classification. He would have to switch to the 100 and 400. It turned out not to be that big of deal.
“My favorite is the 200,” Schulz said. “But I dislike the 800 very much.”
Schulz went on to finish take silver in the 100 and 400 in his first taste of national Para competition. His achievements made U.S. Paralympics Track & Field take notice.
On Dec. 1, Schulz was one of 35 high school athletes named a 2022 High School All-American. On top of that, he was one of four athletes named as the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Athletes of the Year.
Schulz was quick to give credit to his doctors, his family and his coach, all of whom made his achievements possible.
“They get the credit,” Schulz said. “I wasn’t thinking about (Paralympics) at first as I didn’t have a good understanding and didn’t realize that there are different categories.”
Now excelling on the national stage, Schulz said he is committed to spreading awareness about the Paralympics so others have the chance to seek the opportunities he has seized.
As he prepares to compete in his senior season, he is also preparing for the next national championships with one goal in mind: the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.
“That’s what I’m working towards,” he said. “It’s just a matter of putting in the work, day in and day out.”
For Andy and Kelly, pride is naturally swelling. Kelly remembers her son’s first words after surgery was asking what sport he would be able to participate in.
“He always finds a way to get things done,” Kelly said.
For Andy, the satisfaction comes from not only seeing Schulz excel, but in seeing him taking enjoyment and fulfillment from his pursuits.
“It’s been really rewarding,” he said. “It’s such a blessing to see that he can continue competing because that drive fuels him.”