For the riskiest ride of his life, there was a Bennie riding shotgun
July 6, 2018
By Greg Skoog '89; Photo of Mike with snowboard and prosthetic leg by Wayne Davis
His most death-defying ride wasn’t on a snowboard…
Or a snowmobile. Or even a motocross bike.
Mike Schultz, of Kimball, Minnesota, won silver and gold on a snowboard at the PyeongChang Paralympic Winter Games in February. He’s an eight-time X Games gold medalist in adaptive snocross and motocross. He’ll be on hand later this month to award medals at X Games Minneapolis.
But for the riskiest ride of his life, there was a Bennie riding shotgun. Mike’s wife is Sara Becker Schultz ’03, a proud nursing graduate (sports medicine minor) of the College of Saint Benedict. In 2008, she accompanied Mike on a white-knuckled ambulance ride through a snowstorm after the snowmobile accident that cost him his leg and could have taken his life.
Mike was a professional snocross racer at the time, competing in a race in Ironwood, Michigan. In a haze of snowdust, he missed spotting the landing on a jump and suffered a severe compound fracture of his leg.
“It was probably one of the toughest and most challenging days of my life,” recalled Sara. “I was at the bottom of the course when the accident happened, and didn’t see it happen. I’ve dealt with a lot of medical things. But just that image and hearing Mike, I knew how bad it was.”
Mike was quickly transported to the local hospital. But the local hospital wasn’t equipped to handle an injury as serious as Mike’s. “I was coaching him through the breathing,” said Sara. “We knew it was a very critical situation. And you think, Once we get to the hospital, it’s going to be okay. And it wasn’t. There was one doctor and one nurse.”
Sara continued to pitch in and do what she could. “I was looking around and putting oxygen on him and helping stop the bleeding … and I wanted to do more as a nurse. But I did what I could. I was squeezing IV bags to try to get fluids in him.”
An airlift to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, Minnesota, was the best course of action. But a December snowstorm had grounded the LifeFlight helicopter in Duluth. For two and a half hours they worked to stabilize Mike’s condition while they waited and hoped for the weather to clear. But the only thing that became clear was that they were going to need to transport him on the ground.
“I was, like, let’s go,” said Sara. “I didn’t take time to cry or grieve or anything – I was definitely in nurse mode.”
The hospital staff politely explained that Sara wouldn’t be permitted to ride along in the ambulance. Sara not-quite-as-politely explained that this was not acceptable. She quickly signed whatever consent forms were placed in front of her and climbed aboard with her husband.
In a 2009 interview for ESPN, Mike said, “Thank God my wife was there. She’s a nurse, and she was by my side from the time I got loaded up at the track. She wasn’t getting emotional. She just kind of went into work mode, doing whatever she could to make it better. And she was the only person the whole time who could keep me somewhat calm so I didn’t pass out. I’m so glad she was around. She actually fought her way to be able to ride in the ambulance on the way to Duluth.”
That calming influence proved vital since, due to blood loss, Mike was largely unmedicated for the whole trip. “They gave me just a little shot of morphine and sent me on the way to Duluth, which was two hours away,” he told ESPN. “I wish I would have passed out because it was so painful.”
Sara remembered, “It wasn’t until we got to the trauma hospital in Duluth that I could finally breath. As soon as they took him into surgery, that’s when the nurse in me stopped and the wife took over and the emotions came at that point. But not until I knew someone else was taking care of him did I let it happen.”
Mike had three surgeries in the next two and a half days. He explained to ESPN: “After the third surgery, I woke up and was told we had a tough decision to make. So they told us what the problems were with the nerves, arteries and whatnot. I was in shock, and my heart just kind of sank. I listened to what they thought was the best route and I was like, ‘Yeah, all right, I don’t want to drag around a limb that doesn’t work at all.’ So they took it off about four inches above the knee joint.”
“And that kind of set the stage for where our lives have gone,” said Sara. “This December will be 10 years, and we’ve never slowed down to ask ‘Why did this happen to us?’ It’s just been, ‘What’s our next goal?’ ‘What’s our next dream? ‘How can we help more people?’ ”
Helping more people
“Right after the amputation, we started to research sports prosthetics,” Sara explained. “The everyday walking leg – that’s what’s covered by insurance. So that’s what’s available to the public. The only other recreational stuff available at that time was the carbon-fiber running blades.”
Mike had different ambitions. He wanted to ride a dirt bike He wanted to ride his snowmobile again. “We started going to these adaptive races and events and found that there was a real need. People were bungee cording their walking leg onto their dirt bike,” said Sara.
The Schultzes saw an opportunity for Mike and for others. “Mike’s always been engineering and building stuff,” Sara said. “He can sketch it out and build it. So he started designing and tinkering and literally built the knee in our garage. He came into the house, put it on our table and said, ‘This is how I’m going to ride again.’ ”
That knee, which uses a patented linkage system and a mountain bike shock, became the Moto Knee. The Versa Foot soon followed and Mike and Sara founded their company, BioDapt, to provide performance prosthetics and adaptive equipment.
Once the original Moto Knee and Versa Foot were in place, “Mike just started to do a lot of research and development,” said Sara, “because obviously there are people who want to do more than ride a dirt bike or snowmobile. That’s how the snowboarding came in. We had a military veteran contact us and ask, ‘Will it work for snowboarding?’ And Mike said, ‘I’m not sure, let me test it.’ ”
So Mike learned how to snowboard. Over the course of three years, he became one of the best para-snowboarders in the world.
Fast forward to this year at the Paralympics; BioDapt had 15 athletes (including Mike) from around the world using a Moto Knee or Versa Foot or both – and ended up with 11 medals.
Mike’s two personal medals, and the fact that he was selected by his teammates to bear the United States flag in the opening ceremonies, made the experience even more special. “The Paralympic Winter Games were the highlight of our race and business careers,” Sara said proudly.
Insurance coverage is one of the barriers the company is working to break down. The Moto Knee and Versa Foot are considered not medically necessary. As such, “the only insurance that covers it is military,” said Sara. “The VA will cover it. And that’s probably where the majority of our sales go.”
But Sara and Mike work to price their products so customers can afford to buy them outright. Beyond that, they work with a number of organizations like Wiggle Your Toes in Minneapolis that help sponsor prosthetics for people in need.
Adapting to the future
“I thought I would be a nurse for the rest of my life,” Sara said. “But as the business grew, I knew Mike needed more help. And working from home has allowed me to spend more time with our daughter, Lauren. It’s been a steep learning curve for me. Most of the classes I would like to have under my belt are accounting and marketing and communications and business management — and those classes are not covered very much in the nursing curriculum. But I do have to say that, coming from Saint Ben’s, and having a well-rounded education has definitely helped with learning new things and adapting to life’s challenges. So Mike and I are figuring it out as we go.”
Editor’s Note: Mike Schultz has been nominated for a 2018 ESPY Award in the Best Male Athlete With a Disability category. You can help him out with a vote here. Both Mike and Sara will be in Los Angeles for the awards show on Wednesday, July 18.