Anyone looking for proof that necessity really is the mother of invention should spend a few minutes with Paralympic snowboarder Mike Schultz.
A former competitive BMX and motocross racer, Schultz — who won gold in the snowboard-cross event on March 12 — lost his left leg after a crash during a pro snowmobile race in 2008.
A mere five and half months after the amputation, he climbed back on his snowmobile and was crushed to learn that his new prosthetic leg wasn’t nearly strong enough to withstand the stresses and strains of the sport.
“It was right then that I realized, ‘I need to design my own prosthetic so I can get back on my snowmobiles and dirt bikes,” recalls Schultz, 36, who served as the Team USA flag bearer during the opening ceremonies for the 2018 Paralympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, on March 9.
Before long, the married father from St. Cloud, Minnesota, was “dusting off his ninth-grade drafting skills” and working on designs for a prosthetic that offered a greater range of motion in the knee and ankle for athletes like himself.
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“I’ve always been a problem-solver type of guy and I love to work in the shop,” says Schultz, who admits that the project also gave him something to think about besides the loss of his leg.
“I needed a project to keep my mind focused in a positive direction and this was the perfect one.”
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Seven months after losing his leg, he won a silver medal in motocross at the X-Games on a prosthetic he’d built, using a linkage system he’d designed coupled with a mountain bike shock.
Along the way, Schultz also learned how to snowboard — and on Friday will be trying to win his second gold medal when he competes in the banked slalom.
“I learned to snowboard as an amputee, so it was a huge challenge to get to the level I’m at now,” says Schultz, whose prosthetic legs are worn by over a hundred wounded soldiers and many of his competitors.
“It was a steep challenge, but that’s what I’m all about.”