Mike Schultz competes in the SB-LL1 men’s snowboard cross during the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games on March 12, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.
When Mike Schultz had his left leg amputated above the knee following a snocross racing accident in 2008, he quickly discovered two things about prosthetics.
First, there were few options for action sports athletes like him. Second, the only ones available were for alpine skiers and mountain bikers. The ski prosthesis did not have sufficient range of motion at the knee joint. The other didn’t have the geometry to absorb major impacts.
It was then that Schultz, who won a gold and silver medal in para-snowboarding at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games, decided to design his own prosthesis. It may seem like a daunting task for most people. But for Schultz, the idea came as naturally as to breathe. As far as he can remember he has had a mechanical mindset.
“Growing up on a farm in the countryside, I was always in the workshop with my dad helping him weld parts, repair tractors, four-wheelers and farm equipment,” Schultz recalls, originally from Minnesota. “I’ve always wanted to understand how things work and try to make them better, faster, stronger.”
Schultz, aka Monster Mike for his aggressive driving style, put the same intensity into the construction of his prosthesis. He began to develop what eventually became the Moto Knee, which he built using aluminum components and shocks found in Fox mountain bikes. The basic goal is to absorb an impact similar to a suspension component on a motocross bike, mountain bike or snowmobile. A spring that acts like a quadriceps muscle helps extend the knee joint.
“When you’re flying through the air, you have to plant yourself on the ground and absorb that energy,” Schultz explained. “To be able to flex, I have to shift my weight there and the spring helps bring it back. Compare that to a daily walking leg where there is no spring assist. It can just rock back and forth as you walk.
It took about a year for Schultz to have a production model he felt comfortable with. In 2010, he started his own business, BioDapt Inc., and has since produced prosthetics for hundreds of clients. Many of them are elite athletes, including teammates and parasnowboard opponents.
Schultz also developed the Versa Foot, which can be combined with the Moto Knee for shock absorption, flexibility and ankle strength.
“For action sports activities where you’re constantly jumping up and down or crouching up and down, you need that range of motion to keep the sole of your foot on the ground,” Schultz said.
At age 13, Schultz started racing BMX bikes with friends. When he was 15, he got his first mountain bike and started competing in motocross races. It was then that he became addicted to action sports.
“My junior and senior year, everything I did was around trying to get to the races this weekend,” he recalls.
During a snowmobile race in December 2008, Schultz was thrown from his machine. The impact hypertensive her left leg so severely that doctors were forced to amputate her above the knee. As devastating as the accident was, Schultz had only one goal that kept him moving: to find a way to resume playing the sports he loved.
“Obviously no one wants to hear that their life is going to change and you are now going to become an amputee,” he said. “I could have let it consume me and drag me down, or I could just accept it right away and take it step by step towards the next goal. “
Following the crash, Schultz became the first athlete to win a gold medal at the X Games and the Winter X Games. He met Adaptive Action Sports, a Colorado-based nonprofit founded by Dan Gale and three-time Paralympic medalist Amy Purdy, and tried snowboarding. The experience was both frightening and exhilarating. It also allowed Schultz to test and market his prosthetics to other athletes.
Gale and Purdy convinced him to work to become a para-snowboarder. He started competing after the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games, clinching silver in incline slalom and finishing fourth in snowboardcross at the 2017 world championships.
After qualifying for PyeongChang, Schultz won gold in snowboardcross and silver in incline slalom. In the first World Cup race in Landgraaf, the Netherlands, to kick off the 2021-22 season late last month, he won two silver medals in SB-LL1.
Some athletes may be reluctant to create a product that improves the performance of their competition. But Schultz managed to successfully combine his business skills with the competitiveness required of an elite athlete.
“I have two hats,” he explained. “I have the athlete’s cap and the businessman’s cap. It’s delicate, a fine line. To my mind, the big picture is what I do to help adapted sports in general. It’s much bigger than my race for the gold medal. It helps people get out there and accomplish more.
As for BioDapt’s future, Schultz has no plans to slow down, no matter how long he intends to compete after the Beijing Paralympics.
“We cannot stagnate,” Schultz said. “We have to keep developing the equipment all the time. We will continue to evolve what we currently have and also add more equipment to different sports and activities.