Heart – and leg – of a champion
Passion, determination and a large dose of entrepreneurial spirit have allowed Mike Schultz to thrive in his career despite the loss of a limb.
Life presents each of us with challenges from time to time, but rarely is the challenge the loss of a limb. In an instant, the ability to climb a staircase or tie a shoe – things that most people take for granted – can suddenly become far more difficult. This was the case with Mike Schultz, but he refused to let that event prevent him from making the most of his life.
“Monster” Mike Schultz, a snowmobile racer since his high school days, went pro in 2003, and within five years was one of the top five snocross racers in the world. But an accident one winter day in 2008 changed everything.
“I had a bad start during the qualifying race and was pushing hard to catch up so I could make the finals,” says Schultz. “Coming down a hill, though, I got bucked off the sled and landed wrong. My knee basically blew apart.”
The doctors woke me up to tell me they were amputating my leg.
Things quickly went from bad to worse. A nearby snowstorm grounded all helicopter flights that day, so Schultz had to ride by ambulance to the nearest trauma centre. “It was five hours before I got to a trauma surgeon,” he says. “They tried to save it, but three days after the accident I’d gone through 47 units of blood and my kidneys were shutting down. The doctors woke me up to tell me they were amputating my leg.”
Schultz spent 13 days in hospital. “I rebounded pretty quickly because of my physical condition,” he says. “They sent me home on Christmas Day. Five weeks later I had my first prosthetic leg. To be able to walk again was an amazing feeling.” Despite this, Schultz thought his racing days were over. “I didn’t want to race if I couldn’t compete at the level I did before. I kind of wrote it off.”
But several months later, he heard about the X Games Supercross Adaptive sports competition and knew then that he had to give it a try. The problem was finding a suitable prosthetic, one that would not only help him compete, but actually win.
“I knew of one sport-capable prosthesis, meaning it had a coil-over shock, but it was designed for downhill skiing,” he says. “The spring rates are too stiff, and the range of motion isn’t anywhere near the 135 degrees needed for snowmobiling.” That’s when Schultz began thinking about alternatives.
I’ve always been a problem-solver, so I just listed what I needed the knee to do.
With an indefatigable spirit and a little help from friends in the racing community, he soon designed and built one ideal for extreme sports.
“I had some drafting classes in high school, which is about the extent of my engineering education,” he says. “But I think mechanically, and I’ve always been a problem-solver, so I just listed what I needed the knee to do, the function of it. It had to absorb shock. It had to bend at least 135 degrees. And it had to be adjustable for different sporting activities.”
Schultz wanted to use a FOX mountain bike shock as the guts of his new prosthesis. Within a month, Schultz had a good working drawing, which he brought to a nearby shop.
“They gave me a quick rundown on how to use the mill and the lathe and turned me loose,” he says. “I machined the first one. I remember the feeling when I pulled the parts out of the mill, bolted it all together and stuck it on my leg,” he says. “I got on a dirt bike that same day, grinning ear to ear. It was an amazing feeling. I could stand up on the bike, balanced, just like I had two good legs. The first time I pinned the throttle, I was the happiest guy in the world. Right there I knew I’d be able to do some pretty cool stuff with this.”
He hasn’t looked back since
Less than five months after the accident, Schultz and his new knee raced motocross at Michigan’s Extremity Games, qualifying him for the 2009 ESPN Summer X Games Supercross. “Participating in an event like that was a real eye-opener,” says Schultz. “It opened me up to relationships with other amputees, where I could learn stuff from them, and them from me. From that point on, it’s been a whole new world.”
Over the past eleven years, Monster Mike has made a name for himself in the world of adaptive sports, taking home ten gold medals in the Motocross, Snocross, and Snow Bike categories at the X Games competition, as well as gold and silver at the 2018 Winter Paralympics.
Schultz’s name spread even further from his appearance on the American Edge Factor show about modern manufacturing and innovation, which was sponsored at the time by Sandvik Coromant.
I’m committed to showing what an adaptive athlete is capable of.
“As Sandvik is the global leader in metal-cutting technology and innovation, it’s part of our responsibility to help our customers be successful in their endeavors as well as to help people outside the industry to understand the value of metal cutting in modern life,” says Senior Project Leader JoAnn Mitchell, Sandvik Coromant USA, about the sponsorship.
Apart from his passion for all things fast, Schultz has developed another love, this one a gift to athletes like himself. His work on high-performance prosthetics has led him to open his own manufacturing company, BioDapt, which now markets his high-impact, highly adjustable Moto Knee and its companion, the VF2 prosthetic sports foot.
“I’m committed to showing myself and others what an adaptive athlete is capable of with some motivation, hard work and the right equipment,” he says.
- The World Health Organization estimates that 30 million people need prosthetic and orthotic devices
- Approximately 185,000 people go through an amputation every year in the United States — 300 to 500 amputations every 24 hours.
- There are currently 28 Paralympic sports sanctioned by the International Paralympic Committee – 22 summer and six winter
- The X Games is an annual extreme sports event hosted, produced, and broadcast by ESPN
- The Games holds both Snocross and adaptive Snocross events. Schultz is a 10 times X Games Gold Medallist, in events including adaptive Snocross, Snobikecross and moto X.
- As of 2019, Schultz is a nine-time X Games Gold Medallist and a Gold and Silver Medallist in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in snowboarding
About the prosthetic
- Now called the Moto Knee, Schultz’s prosthetic component consists of a mountain bike shock and a compressed air spring that allow the knee to flex and provide a full range of motion
- Schultz also adapted the Versa Foot, which helps elite adaptive athletes and recreational sports fans participate in activities
- Sandvik Coromant offers a large range of advanced tooling and machining solutions for medical devices: hip joints, bone screws, pedicle screws, dental implants and bone plates
- Schultz has set up his own prosthetic business, BioDapt, where he sells the Moto Knee and Versa Foot and has already support hundreds of users