Mike Schultz: Moto X Adaptive Champion Wins On and Off Track
Mike Schultz still races because he enjoys the thrill of competition. The fact that he only has one leg isn’t something he lets holds him back. After a horrible snowmobile accident during his professional racing career, Schultz had to adjust to a new reality – one that meant he no longer had the use of his left leg after it had to be amputated due to complications following his accident. It ended his professional career. It changed his life. But if you were to ask Schultz today, it didn’t ruin his life – it simply made him learn to adjust.
“It’s all about the perspective and how you look at things,” Schultz told us before his race this past weekend at the X Games. “You can look at it and be bummed out about it, or … I knew I was in a risky occupation and I knew there was a possibility of it happening, and now it did. I can’t be upset about it because I put myself there.”
The main question Schultz asked himself was: “How do we move forward?” Moving forward was something he had to process quickly. He was at the top of his snowmobile racing career in the few years leading up to his 2008 accident. He was only two races into his new contract with the Ski-Doo Warnert Racing team when he was bucked off his machine and landed with his knee locked straight. The impact hyper extended his knee and blew out the knee joint. The complication to the brutal fracture was that it severed a main artery. A slew of complications then followed, as the first hospital couldn’t handle his injury and a snowstorm made helicopter transportation to the next hospital, which was two hours away in Duluth, impossible. So he was transported via ambulance to Duluth. Schultz knew the injury was bad, but he felt all along it would just be a tough recovery from a bad injury, nothing more.
“At no point was I thinking of amputation,” he said. “In the back of my mind I always thought I would recover close to 100 percent, but after the third day in the hospital in Duluth I was having some circulation problems and was actually getting poisoned from the inside out. I went through 47 units of blood in those days and I was dying basically. So they woke me up and said we have to make decision, and we think amputation is probably the best option for you right now. For long-term health, we want you to live and we think this is the right thing to do.”
Schultz spoke it over with his family, specifically his wife Sara, whom he calls his “number one teammate,” and they felt amputation was the best course of action.
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“Being a professional athlete and hearing amputation it was hard to take, but I knew the bigger picture for me to go on living I just had to make some changes and never race again,” he said. “That was kind of the hard thing was thinking about my future and having to make some changes and get a real job somehow and not race anymore.”
Fortunately, Schultz quickly realized he would not be away from the sports he loved for long. Less than a month after his surgery he was out riding a snowmobile in front of his house, something he described as “awkward as heck” since he didn’t have a prosthetic leg to help with him balance or body placement yet. As he recovered, he stayed involved with his Ski-Doo team. Although he wasn’t racing, he helped them groom practice courses, work on suspension and setting up the machines, and basically anything he could do to help. He also would occasionally ask a teammate if he could take their sled for a spin. He still was a racer at heart.
It was a few months later that he heard about some of the adaptive races for injured athletes. After speaking with other adaptive riders who competed, Schultz realized he didn’t have to fully give up the racing life. He set out to learn what adjustments his vehicle needed, how the vehicle would respond, and how his riding style with a prosthetic leg would require adapting. He tried a few different sports-style prosthetic legs but wasn’t happy with what they offered in terms of movement.
“It just didn’t quite have the range of motion or adjustments I wanted,” he said. “Me being the garage guy I’m always building and designing something or other, and I am used to tuning my own suspension for my race bikes and snowmobiles so I’m really familiar with the geometry of linkages and that type of thing, so, like, this could be a cool project of building my own leg to get back into riding. So that spring I started the drawing board of the Moto Knee.”
The genesis of the Moto Knee, which Schultz now sells through his company BioDapt, ultimately came from drawings and pieces he worked on his own shop at home.
“I had to develop a linkage system to allow the knee to bend naturally and provide a full range of motion and have a good natural feel to it, and I actually have a patent on that which is really cool,” he said. “And that, coupled with a Fox air shock, makes this cool, really versatile lightweight package that can fit in the space of your lower leg.”
Schultz worked on the idea for about a month and then headed to a machine shop to start cutting some of the parts.
“I was the happiest guy in the world,” Schultz said. “I had all the parts and was working on it for a weeks straight and I was putting all these parts together like a kid with a Lego set. I got it all put together and kinda jumped up and down on it and was like, ‘all right!’
“The biggest difference between that and the one I wore everyday is it has spring resistance that helps the knee extend again and it will carry the weight from side to side so I can be balanced, and then the shock will absorb the impact of the jumps and everything. I bolted it on and made a few adjustments to the shock and got on the dirt bike and took it for a spin on the trail and instantly I knew was onto something. And that just started the fire under me.”
About five months after his accident, Schutlz went to the Extremety Games (http://www.extremitygames.com/) to compete and also try to qualify for the Summer X Games in 2009. He was surprised just how well it went, and he was pleased that his Moto Knee made it possible to complete.
“My moto knee, my own creation, made it possible for me to ride just as well or better the guys already there,” he said. “So that was really fulfilling and really redeeming after what I had been through.”
After qualifying for the 2009 Summer X Games, he showed up to the race and ended up earning a silver medal. He returned in 2010 and won gold. He also later competed in the Winter X Games in the Adaptive Snowmobile class, which he admits he has an edge in since that was his sport of profession prior to his injury. The victory at this year’s X Games marks his fifth gold medal since his accident. Although the wins while using the knee he helped create provide him with great joy, he’s most pleased being able to help others enjoy an active lifestyle.
“In 2009 I built the leg for myself, and after meeting some other adaptive athletes and realizing that others could benefit from it, that following summer I worked on development and it snowballed into my company BioDapt. It’s going great. I’m getting phenomenal feedback and helping a lot of athletes – whether it be snowboarding, skiing, horseback riding, moto, snowmobile, ATVs, anything where you’re in that active stance and you need your quadricep muscles to absorb or stand up or sit down – that type of thing.”
But it’s not solely athletes he’s helping. He has also been able to help injured soldiers returning from deployment.
“I’m helping out a lot of the military guys as well,” he said. “They’re’ coming back and unfortunately there are a lot of amputees coming out of the military. I mean, they’re young and don’t want to slow down much, so this gives them a whole new option of things they can do. For me, it’s more rewarding seeing that then going out there and winning a race. To be able to see these clients trying something out and it’s opening up doors so they can enjoy life, it’s very fulfilling and rewarding for me.”
Schultz was faced with a new life after his injury – one that threatened many of the things he loved before his accident. But with a positive outlook and a motivation to return to as close to a life as he had before his crash, he eventually turned tragedy into a positive situation for more than just himself. “Not too long after [the injury] I was talking to my wife and I told her I wanted to make something good out of this situation,” Schultz told us. With the development of his two sport-minded prosthetic units – the Moto Knee and the Versa Foot – he has more than overcome the odds. And he’s made a better future for injured athletes everywhere.