"Monster" Mike Schultz gives back to action sports community by helping rivals succeed
by Devin Lowe
Mike Schultz poses with Steadman Clinic staff in April 2018. Photo by Eric Pond.
Action sports star. Adaptive athlete. Paralympic champion. “Monster” Mike Schultz has taken on plenty of titles over the course of his career, but there’s one he’s given himself that has helped him change the landscape of action sports prosthetics.
Schultz calls himself a “garage guy.”
He got his start in action sports on dirtbikes and snowmobiles, racing snocross at the X Games since 2002. In 2008, at a competition in Michigan, Schultz was thrown from his snowmobile, causing severe damage to his left leg that required above-the-knee amputation.
Just a few months after the accident, he was in his garage, trying to build himself a new leg.
“Me being a garage guy and problem solver mechanically, I thought this was going to be a good project for me to work on,” Schultz said. “My goal back then was – still is – to create the highest performance lower limb prosthetic equipment available for action sports.”
Wanting to get back on his bike and snowmobile, Schultz thoroughly researched his options, but found that most above-the-knee prosthetics in the market didn’t do what he needed his new leg to do. He constructed a knee joint and tinkered with it for a little over a month before finalizing his first prototype in April of 2009.
That summer, he won silver at the X Games using the leg he’d created from scratch.
That leg, an early version of Schultz’s signature Moto Knee and Versa Foot combination, contains a spring that Schultz likens to “having your quad flexed all the time.” Because of its capacity for shock absorption, it gained rapid notoriety in adaptive action sports circles.
To satisfy the growing demand, Schultz founded his own prosthetics company, called BioDapt, in 2010, and began manufacturing the Moto Knee and Versa Foot for other adaptive athletes.
It was his budding business that paved the way for his snowboarding career: Adaptive snowboarders approached Schultz, asking to try the leg and inadvertently drawing him to the sport. By 2012, he was training with Adaptive Action Sports at Copper Mountain in Colorado for his first snowboard-cross competition at the X Games.
Coaches at Adaptive Action Sports, a nonprofit co-founded by Schultz’s future Paralympic teammate Amy Purdy, saw potential in the garage guy who’d built his own leg.
“I remember the conversation one of their coaches had with me,” Schultz said. “He was like, ‘Alright, Schultzy. You’ve got two years to kinda learn how to snowboard a little bit, and then the following two years, you’re mine, because you’re going to the Games.’”
Schultz learned how to snowboard more than a little bit, and his company took off in tandem. By 2017, he had taken silver in the banked slalom event at the World Para Snowboard Championships, and more than 100 adaptive athletes, veterans and amputees received custom Moto Knees and Versa Feet from BioDapt.
In 2018, Schultz was named to the U.S. Paralympic Snowboard Team. All 11 of the team’s lower-limb amputees were already outfitted with BioDapt equipment, as were four competitors from Canada, Brazil, Japan and Australia.
Noah Elliott is one of BioDapt’s athlete representatives. In 2014, he was in a hospital bed in St. Louis watching the Sochi Games on TV as he dealt with an aggressive form of bone cancer. When he got his leg amputated, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Evan Strong, Keith Gabel and Mike Shea – but he needed the right equipment.
One night, something else on television caught Elliott’s eye: Mike Schultz talking to Conan O’Brien about his company. To raise enough money to purchase his own Moto Knee and Versa Foot, Elliott worked as a dishwasher.
“I was still in St. Louis when it showed up. I remember looking at it, thinking ‘Oh, this thing is sweet!’” Elliott said. “I moved to Park City and started snowboarding with it … and it was amazing to see my progression over a two-month period. I was free. I was me again. I gained a part of myself back that I thought I lost forever.”
Schultz and Elliott both made their Paralympic debut in PyeongChang in the snowboard-cross event, where Schultz advanced to the big final. There, he snagged his first ever Paralympic medal: gold.
A few days later, the pair raced head-to-head in the banked slalom final, and it was Elliott – outfitted with Schultz’s custom-built prosthetic – that took the title.
“I was pumped for him,” Schultz said. “Seeing him win gold on a leg that I created for him, heck yeah, I was pumped. I gave him a huge high five and I was happy for him. It definitely gives my personal story another dimension, and I’m totally pumped about it. I enjoy helping people achieve their goals through my experiences I can share or the equipment that I create.”
American snowboarders won 13 medals in PyeongChang, including 11 won with the help of BioDapt prosthetics. Schultz and Elliott combined for four medals in their four events, including two gold, one silver and one bronze.
“I was very thankful that he made this [prosthetic] when he did and essentially shared it with the world,” Elliott said. “The fact that he wanted to help others get back to their sports and that he shared that, and has been able to take it and make what he has with it, is amazing, and it’s truly an inspiration to me.”
Now that he’s a Paralympic champion, Schultz hopes to turn his focus to his business. Thanks to the funding the U.S. Paralympic Snowboard Team receives from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation, Schultz and his teammates are able to focus on training and finding the best equipment available.
And most would agree: That equipment comes from BioDapt, born from an idea straight out of Schultz’s garage.
“This is such a rewarding career field,” Schultz said. “The highlight of everything I do around my company is that moment when we help an adaptive athlete get back on snow for the first time or get back to their sport for the first time after they thought their riding days or their competition days were over.
“Seeing their reactions – the emotions, the smiles, the high-fives – it’s unforgettable moments, and we get to experience that a lot. For me, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what keeps me motivated to keep at it. It’s fun helping people achieve their goals.”