St. Cloud resident to compete in 2018 Winter Paralympics
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Mike Schultz has attained quite a list of things he never expected to see or do in his life.
The most recent accomplishments include qualifying to compete in the 2018 Winter Paralympics and finding out that a photo of him would adorn boxes of Frosted Flakes.
Schultz is a 36-year-old Kimball Area High School graduate who lives in St. Cloud. He will begin being on cereal boxes for Kellogg’s soon.
“You know you’ve made it to the big time when you’re on a cereal box,” Schultz said with a laugh.
But he is not laughing when he talks about what it will mean to represent Team USA for the Winter Paralympics, which will take place March 8-18 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“To be able to wear your country’s colors and compete in the Paralympics for the snowboard team ... it’s pretty powerful,” Schultz said.
He was named the Team USA Male Athlete of the Month for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes for November, the St. Cloud Times reported .
Schultz’s story has plenty of triumph, but there have been some tough defeats and obstacles to overcome to get to where he is. He suffered a left leg injury in an International Series of Champions National Snocross snowmobiling race in 2008 that was so severe his leg had to be amputated above his knee to save his life.
Schultz’s most recent obstacle came in 2015, when he suffered a heel injury in a World Para Snowboard event.
“I shattered the heel in my good leg, and it was an extremely bad injury,” Schultz said. “I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to snowboard again. But I slowly got back into competition the last couple years.”
As painful and difficult to recover as the amputation was for Schultz, he said the heel injury was worse.
“That injury was harder than the amputation because it was so painful for so long,” Schultz said. “I lost most of the mobility in my ankle, and trying to recover was so taxing on me mentally and physically.
“Last season, I wasn’t performing very well in the first half. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to catch up. Halfway through last winter season, I decided that, yes, this is something that I want to focus on and 100 percent focus into it.”
Finishing in the top three in events in New Zealand, the Netherlands and Finland helped him qualify for the Winter Paralympics, and he will receive his official invitation in February.
Since the amputation, Schultz returned to snocross and motocross racing. This season, because of the Paralympics, he has stayed away from snocross.
“I didn’t want to complicate things or risk getting injured,” he said. “Hopefully, I can bring back some hardware from the Paralympic Games.”
Snocross racing is a passion for Schultz, who competed in his first X Games in 2002.
“I bought my first dirt bike when I was 12, and I started racing motocross when I was 15 and started getting pretty successful,” he said. “Then I started racing snowmobiles at 17 and decided I wanted to focus on that and see if I can make a career at it.”
He signed his first pro snocross contract in 2003.
“I was living my dream as a professional athlete,” Schultz said. “My best years were from 2005-2008. I didn’t get a win on the national tour, but I got a handful of seconds and thirds.
“I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was making enough to cover my expenses.”
Then on Dec. 13, 2008, everything changed. In a competition at a snocross event in Ironwood, Michigan, he got thrown off his snowmobile and crashed to the ground.
“I got bucked off my snowmobile and landed and had a compound fracture to my leg and shattered my knee,” Schultz said. “It was extremely bad. I severed a main artery and I was bleeding on the race track.”
His wife, Sara, his high school sweetheart and a registered nurse, was at the event. When Mike did not make it to the finish line and the next race was delayed, she knew something was wrong.
“I found a track worker and I got on a snowmobile and went over to the hill where Mike was,” she said. “All I could see was blood in the white snow. I knew it was really bad.”
He was taken to a local emergency room.
“It was a hospital with a two-room ER, a doctor and a nurse,” Sara said. “They weren’t equipped to take care of Mike.”
But he could not be taken via helicopter to a hospital with a trauma center because of a snowstorm. So he had to take a 2½-hour ambulance ride to get to St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth.
“I decided I was going to help take care of him and I was putting oxygen on him and helping with his clothing,” she said. “It was very challenging being both his wife and his nurse in the same time.
“That’s why I have an even harder time with some of it than Mike does because I witnessed it all.”
Sara had experience helping deliver babies and helped Mike with breathing exercises all the way to the hospital.
“I was awake, but I wish I wasn’t,” Mike said. “It was extremely painful. I lost an enormous amount of blood, and it’s amazing that I didn’t pass out. Over the next three days, they did what they could to save my leg. But there were major complications with nerve damage and my kidneys started to shut down.
“At that point, they notified my family that they had to amputate my leg in order to save my life.”
Sara said she had the support of all of Mike’s family to OK the amputation. But she told the doctors Mike needed to revived and told before it was done because she had told him that they “were going to bolt him back together and he was going to be fine.”
“They explained to me that it was my leg or my life, so it was kind of an easy choice,” Mike said. ”
He was in the hospital for nearly two weeks and got home on Dec. 24, 2008. When he got home, a variety of things hit him.
“It really, really sunk in that I was in for some really tough times,” he said. “I got my walking leg 5½ weeks later.”
Schultz then got busy finding a way to get back to competing in motor sports. Before turning pro as a racer, he grew up on a farm and had spent time working in metal fabrication and in a motor sports dealership.
His background helped him come up with an idea to get back to competing in motocross and snocross. He designed his own prosthetic.
“I had a conventional prosthetic, but that wouldn’t work with motocross and snowmobiles,” he said. “Me, being the person I am and being mechanical, I decided to build myself a new leg to do all this. With my past experience in mechanical engineering and with suspension for dirt bikes, I came up with one.
“There were two sides to working on it. One was trying to build something that would work. The other part was it was a really productive goal to work on during a really tough time and to get excited about what lies ahead. At the end of early April (2009), I had the first prototype.”
It turned into a business for Schultz, who, along with Sara, run BioDapt, which produces performance prosthetics and adaptive equipment.
Seven months after he lost the lower part of his left leg, Schultz was back competing and won a silver medal in an adaptive supercross event in Los Angeles.
As word about his business continued to grow, Schultz was asked by potential clients to see if he could make a prosthetic that would help someone snowboard. In high school, Mike had worked as a lift operator and Sara as a ski instructor at Powder Ridge.
Mike has skied before, but had not been on a snowboard when he tried it for the first time in 2011.
“I had a couple customers who were veterans who wanted to get back into snowboarding,” Mike said. “I had done zero snowboarding. I had wakeboarded a few times with some friends.
“But I started hanging out and working with the adaptive snowboard program to develop equipment and I got pretty good at riding. In 2012, I started racing. Two years after I started snowboarding, I was doing really well.”
Some of the reasons why was because a lot of the skills he uses in snowmobile and motocross racing transfer.
“There’s a lot of jumps and berms,” he said. “The biggest difference is there’s no handlebar or throttle or breaks in front of you.
“It was a steep learning curve.”
He was doing some snowboarding in Colorado when he caught the eye of the Team USA adaptive snowboarding coach. After the 2014 Winter Paralympics, he accepted an invitation to compete in a World Para Snowboard event.
“I won a couple of World Cup races and thought, ‘This is pretty cool,’” he said. “Being on the US Para Snowboard team and wearing your country’s uniform is pretty powerful.”
He decided that his next goal was to compete in the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
But in 2015, he suffered another setback. Schultz wanted to be the first to compete in the X Games in both adaptive SnoCross and adaptive snowboarding events. Competing in the snowboarding, he crashed.
“I did not see it happen,” Sara said. “I was there with (our daughter, Lauren) and she was a year old and I had her in a backpack on my shoulder.
“All I saw was his motoknee on the Jumbotron and that was, and is, hard. He had shattered his good heel into at least 12 pieces.”
Surgeries and rehabilitation would follow, and the outlook for competition did not look good. There were some tough conversations between Mike and Sara.
“He was in a wheelchair with a 1-year-old daughter and we’re wondering what are we going to do?” Sara said. “He ended up having to have more surgery a year later to clean up the ankle and he was having pain on a daily basis.
“Last winter, he was like, ‘I’m done. I can’t put you through it.’ We’d been doing (racing) for 20 years and when do you make that choice to move on? Believe it or not, it was me who told him that he can do this.
“I told him, ’Mike, I know you can stand on top of the podium and have the national anthem played for our country. And he made the decision to go all in. When he focuses and is all in, he can do it.”
Mike decided that this winter, he would not snowmobile race and would focus on training to qualify for the Paralympics.
He won a gold medal in the banked slalom at the World Para Snowboard World Cup event in Landgraaf, Netherlands.
“When he was in Europe and won the gold, I was jumping on my bed in the middle of the night,” said Sara, who was following the event online. “No one knows about the daily struggles. They only see the end results. Those low moments make the highs that much better.”
Sara plans to make the trip to South Korea to see Mike compete, though Lauren is going to have to stay home.
“I really wanted to take Lauren, but it’s going to be a little too much to take her,” Sara said. “It will be different because I won’t be able to see him before the races and we kind of feed off each other ... But I can’t imagine not being there to support him.
“Win or lose, this is a victory.”
BioDapt has prosthetics that are being used by “more than 20” Paralympians, which is one more thing that Mike has pride in.
“One of my most rewarding things is providing equipment for my teammates and other athletes around the world to be more active and to participate in sports,” he said. “Winning medals is big.
“But when I get all this positive feedback on how happy they are to be participating in sports again, that goes much deeper.”
Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com