Under Construction

Snocross racer “Monster” Mike Schultz hit the trigger on his
snowmobile during the second round of qualifying in the Pro Super Stock Class
of the Amsoil Championship Snocross competition at Ironwood, Mich. on Dec. 13,
2008. The snowmobile spun in a trench and dug in at the starting line, causing
Schultz to fall to the back of the pack. It was a rough start to the new season
for the veteran racer, who was also riding on a new sled with a new team.

  The lure of the racetrack brought Mike Schultz back to racing, coaching and eventually prosthesis design.
  The lure of the racetrack brought
Mike Schultz back to racing, coaching and eventually prosthesis design.
  Images: Schultz, S.

Knowing only the top five racers qualify for the final race, Schultz
managed to move up to the sixth position using the numerous high-speed
downhills at Ironwood to his advantage. Halfway through the race, Schultz
charged hard on the fifth place racer. After hurdling over a mogul, his
snowmobile slowly slid in the air and tilted to its side. He could not see well
and had difficulty spotting his landing. He put his foot out to brace for the
inevitable collision with the ground. His left leg hit the snow-covered terrain
locked in full-extension, hyper-extending and shattering his knee upon impact
causing a compound fracture and a lacerated artery. Schultz was in severe pain
and was quickly losing large amounts of blood.


The accident caused severe nerve damage to his left leg and doctors were
unable to secure blood circulation. The bones below his femur were shattered,
according to Schultz. He endured three consecutive surgeries over 2 and a half
days. He went through 47 pints of blood during the first 2 days of his
hospitalization. Doctors pumped blood into his leg only to have it bleed out
into his foot. His kidneys were beginning to shut down and his physical health
was deteriorating.

“Doctors woke me up, brought my family in and we talked about our
options,” Schultz told O&P Business News. “The
doctor performed a test and asked if I had feeling in my foot, which I did not.
He went on to explain the damage the lack of circulation was causing. It was
really tearing down my physical health. Amputation was the best option and the
best decision.”

More surgeries could not guarantee Schultz a functional leg. On Dec. 16,
2008, surgeons performed a transfemoral amputation. They cut approximately
three inches above the bottom of his femur to allow for a better fitting

Just another injury

Schultz suffered from severe pain, including phantom pain, after his
amputation. As a professional snocross and motocross racer, Schultz was
familiar with recovering from injuries. Racers do not win
X Games gold medals without taking some bad falls along the
way. But this was completely different. Bones break, but eventually heal. His
left leg was gone forever.

“I kind of looked at my accident and amputation as an injury that
was going to heal and something I could move on from,” he said. “I
looked at it that way because I’ve had to deal with a lot of injuries in
the past. That was the mindset I had towards it and I slowly worked my way back
into physical condition. Getting back into shape was my first goal.”

Due to the numerous amounts of medications, Schultz retained massive
amounts of fluids in his body. Normally weighing approximately 180 pounds,
Schultz topped out at 247 pounds during his 12-day stay at St. Mary’s
Hospital in Duluth, Minn. Schultz was focused on getting healthy. On Christmas
Eve, he left the hospital and returned home with his wife, Sara, to their home
near Pillager, Minn. Racing again was the furthest thing on his mind.
Initially, he planned on never racing again.

“While I was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital from the
accident I looked at my wife and said, ‘I’m done racing. I don’t
want to go through this again,’” Schultz admitted.

The bug

Despite his vow, Schultz quickly found himself back on the racetrack,
this time as a coach.

“Coaching brought me out to the practice track every week, so I was
already getting back on the snowmobile before I even had my prosthesis,”
Schultz said. “I competed in the X Games for 6 years before the injury as
a professional snowmobiler. Riding and racing has been my life since I was
young. I could not shake the bug. As soon as I started feeling better, I got
back on the snowmobile.”

In March 2009, Schultz entered into a mechanics race, an exhibition
featuring mechanics and retired snocross racers. He was still on his first
check socket during the event. It was his first since the accident.

“I tell other amputees in my position not to get caught up in the
fact that you lost your leg,” he said. “Figure out where you want to
be in the future. For me, I wanted to get back into good physical condition so
I could ride again. Break it down step by step. Look forward and keep building
toward your goal.”

Do-it-yourself prosthetics

Schultz always had a knack for building things. Since high school, he
worked in metal shops, problem solving and tinkering with metal and mechanical
fabrications. In the hospital after his accident, his friends even joked that
he would eventually build his own prosthesis. After leaving the hospital,
Schultz researched performance-based prostheses.

“I also heard about the adaptive supercross event at the summer X
Games,” he said “That really lit a fire under me to move forward and
start designing something to get back on that dirt bike and snowmobile. But in
terms of performance-based equipment, there just was not much of a

He wanted to develop a durable knee for high impact sports like
motocross, snocross, wakeboarding, skiing or snowboarding.

  Mike Shultz created his prosthetic knee around an adjustable compressed air mountain bike shock.
  Mike Shultz created his
prosthetic knee around an adjustable compressed air mountain bike shock.

It took him about a month to draw up plans and determine resistance and
range of motion ratios to simulate his quadriceps when riding. He knew of the
Fox Shox test facility near his house. He talked to the owners and they allowed
him to create his design in their shop, using their mills. They taught him the
process and allowed Schultz to use their equipment. Schultz built his knee
around a lightweight and adjustable compressed air mountain bike shock.

“I am grateful for those guys for teaching me,” he said.
“Within a week I had the first working prototype. I had a final socket at
that point so I just bolted the prototype onto the socket. I assembled the
whole thing, but it took me a few times to calibrate the shock. After a few
different settings, I bolted it to my socket and walked 10 steps to my dirt
bike and took it for a ride.”

According to Schultz, within the first 10 to 15 seconds of riding with
his prototype, he knew he was onto something special.

“I was just smiling from ear to ear and it was just the greatest
feeling because it was something that I built,” he said. “When I
started working on it, I was just thinking of getting myself back to riding.
But that changed after using it.”

Moto Knee and beyond

Schultz discovered his knee could fill the large gap in
performance-based devices for action sports in O&P. He moved forward
designing a production-type device called the
Moto Knee. He trimmed down the length and made the new device
more lightweight for versatility. The Moto Knee is currently on the market
through his company, Biodapt Inc. Schultz plans on developing new components,
such as performance feet that will become available in the near future.

Beyond developing the Moto Knee, Schultz has continued to race in
adaptive events, including the Summer and Winter X Games and the International
Series of Champions tour. He is currently training for the Adaptive Boarder X
competition at this year’s Winter X Games.

“The biggest thing the development of the Moto Knee did for me was
keeping me occupied and focused on something productive,” he said. “I
just kept asking myself, how can I turn this situation into something positive?
The support of my wife, family and friends made things so much easier for me
and allowed me to move forward.” — by Anthony Calabro

For more information:

  • Hoydicz, J. Back on Top. O&P Business News.
    2010;19(1): 50-52.

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