Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Mike Schultz has been racing most of his life, professionally for 12 years. If it goes fast Mike has raced it: snowmobiles in winter, and dirtbikes in spring as soon as the ground was firm enough.
That could have come to an abrupt end last December when "Monster" Mike took a bad snowmobile landing during a snocross competition and severely injured his left leg. After several surgeries to save it, doctors had to amputate above the knee.
A normal person would have taken that as a sign to make a dramatic lifestyle change, give up racing altogether, and take up something more sedate.
Mike was quoted in the Brainerd Dispatch recently as holding his wife Sara's hand after his painful injury, and telling her, "Sara, I'm never racing again."
But now, a short six months later, Mike is racing again.
During the weeks and months following his injury, Mike worked through his pain - including horrible phantom-limb pains. He was up walking on crutches just days after his surgery, and he was walking on a prosthetic limb just five weeks later.
Unstoppable, Mike was back on a snowmobile just a month after his accident, racing in the "mechanics' race" of the ISOC tour in which he'd been injured.
But riding, let alone racing, dirtbikes posed a whole other issue.
"Every spring I always looked forward to it," Mike told the Brainerd Dispatch. "When the accident happened, I was like, 'Man, I'm going to have to get rid of my dirt bike. I'm not going to be able to shift with it because I can't balance off my foot."
In "Monster" Mike style, though, this didn't stop him for long.
The problem was that standard leg prostheses are designed for walking or jogging, not for the needs and abuse of racing dirtbikes. So Mike took on designing his own prosthesis. In particular, he designed an artificial knee, which is in patenting.
"I knew what I wanted," Mike told ESPN in a June interview, "something that would allow me to do high-impact things. So I went to the drawing board in March." Needless to say, it's working out better than he or anyone else expected.
This past weekend, Mike raced in the Extremity Games in Michigan. In an e-mail Sunday, Mike explained that he wasn't yet up to taking the 50-, 75- or 100-foot jumps that other racers were taking.
"I checked up and didn't go for it," he wrote. "The wind had gotten pretty strong and I didn't want to take the chance. I pushed as hard as I could through everything else."
Mike took a strong second, about 8-10 seconds behind the winner and last year's gold-medalist Chris Ridgway. (Ridgway is a long-time BMX racer who also lost his left leg in a racing accident.)
The last race of the day (July 11) was the qualifier for the X Games. Mike was among those few already invited, but he was allowed to race with everyone else. Again Mike shied away from the big jumps, and again he tool second to Ridgway.
"I was so pumped after all the races," Mike wrote, "I can't wait for the summer X Games at the end of July."
He'll be in the Summer X Games in Los Angeles starting July 31. To prepare, Mike will spend the next two weeks intensively training. His goal: to give Chris Ridgway a run for his money and, ultimately, win a gold medal.
ESPN is interviewing Mike again this week, and the interview will be aired July 23 and during the X Games. The X Games will be broadcast on ESPN, and Mike will be racing in the "Adaptive MX" (check TV listings for the schedule).
Mike credits many, most of all his wife Sara (Becker) for his quick come-back. He also has a good deal of philanthropic and corporate support. You can follow Mike at his Web site: www.monstermikeschultz.com. Both Mike and Sara are KAHS alumni. They currently live in Pillager, Minn., near Brainerd.