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After Injury, Snocross Champ Builds Business Helping Others Get Back On Their Feet

Published online: Jul 11, 2013 News Kevin Allenspach, St. Cloud Times
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Pillager, MN - Mike Schultz never intended to become an inventor - at least not beyond tinkering with the motorcycles and snowmobiles he rides.

Since he was a teenager, Schultz has favored life in the fast lane. Living in the country near Kimball and Watkins, MN, he started motocross racing in 1997 and snocross a year later. Devoting himself primarily to snowmobile racing, he earned six National Pro Snocross podium finishes from 2004 to 2008. He was earning a living at least part of the year doing what he loved and even picked up a nickname that stuck: "Monster" Mike Schultz.

"An announcer in Eagle River, WI, gave me that name," said Schultz. "He was calling a race, and he watched me get bumped off. The sleds we ride are pretty physically demanding. It's a 500-pound machine, and my style is to wrestle it around - which I had to do during that race. The name stuck."

At 32, Schultz is still known as Monster. He has his own website (www.monstermikeschultz.com), and he's still riding motorcycles and snowmobiles.

Only now he's getting accolades for an innovation after he had to wrestle something a lot heavier than the Ski-Doo sled on which he earned his fame.

During a 2008 race, Schultz lost control of his machine and his left foot hit the ground so hard he hyperextended it nearly all the way in the wrong direction. His knee was shattered, and, despite efforts to save his leg, he wound up having it amputated just above the joint a few days later.

Rather than let the injury keep him from the motorsports he loved, he channeled his experience into a new business. He began to develop performance prosthetics and adaptive equipment.

His first invention was the Moto Knee, which after multiple prototypes, hit on a solution that would allow amputees to compete in a variety of extreme activities.

In 2010, he started Biodapt, Inc. to market the devices and now has added the Versa Foot. It can be linked with the Moto Knee to form a complete artificial lower limb that is impact resistant, waterproof and customizable for many activities. As a result, Schultz, a 2000 Kimball Area High (MN) School graduate, was one of 10 Americans to receive an Invention Award from Popular Science Magazine, publishers of Popular Mechanics. The magazine has recognized inventors with these awards for the past seven years, most recently unveiling "10 bold creations for a brighter, faster, safer, more efficient future" in the May issue.

From Trail To A Turning Point

Schultz grew up on a hog farm. His routine was to ride the three-wheeler around in the morning while doing his chores. As he got older, things with wheels and an engine took up more and more of his time. He got his first dirt bike, a Honda CR-80, for $850 when he was 12.

"All I wanted to do was go fast and race," Schultz said. "We used a skid-loader to build jumps."

He was 15 when he first raced. That was in Little Falls, MN. Fifty yards off the starting line, he crashed. But he never looked back. And, within a couple years, he was intrigued by snocross races at Powder Ridge. His dad, who also enjoyed snowmobiles, helped him get his first sled at 17. Out of high school, Schultz found the snocross schedule meshed well with a summer job. Between the 12-14 winter events from Thanksgiving through March, and working construction the rest of the year for a company owned by his mother and stepfather, he developed a steady paycheck. And by 2003, his motorsports career was blossoming, so he could start stepping away from construction.

Everything went great for several years - until December of 2008 in the Amsoil Championship at Ironwood, MI.

"We'd had two top-10 finishes already that year," Schultz said. "But I had a feeling something wasn't right the night before when it took us until 10 p.m. at practice to get the sled dialed in. Then the next morning, on Saturday, I had a horrible start. Later, I was running sixth and had to finish at least fifth in order to get to the main event."

So, as Monster Mike Schultz did, he went all out "110 percent of what the sled could do." And his life changed on a rough downhill section along the back of the circuit.

He suffered nerve damage, a compound fracture and a lacerated artery. The severity of the injuries meant the hospital in Ironwood had to transfer him to Duluth. Bad weather meant he had to take a two-hour ride by ambulance instead of in a fraction of the time by helicopter.

After multiple surgeries over several days, it was clear his leg wasn't responding.

"I've broken collarbones, ankles, wrists, ribs ... I've been through a ton of injuries, and I was convinced they could bolt anything together and get me back out there," Schultz said. "But my kidneys started shutting down, and it got to the point where I might have two days to survive if I didn't (have the amputation)."

Out Of Necessity

After two weeks in the hospital, Schultz was released on Christmas Eve. His wife, Sara, a nurse, understood what he was going through.

"I looked at the amputation as a typical injury," Schultz said. "My first focus was to recover physically, because my body was beat up pretty good. I did that and was walking on a leg five and a half weeks after it happened."

And he climbed right back on the snowmobile, spending his time coaching teammates and grooming tracks.

"My leg was flopping around, but you've got to do something," he said.

Luke Becker, a longtime childhood friend, had joined Schultz as a mechanic who also had an interest in racing.

"We went into event mode," Becker said. "I knew he needed things to take his mind off what was going on, so I brought this go-kart up to his garage. I left him with it and, about 17 hours later, it was totally rebuilt. That's when I knew this wasn't going to get the best of him."

Schultz constructed several prototypes of his Moto Knee, which mimics quadricep action and has a microprocessor that controls resistance. He had much greater range of motion and ability to create toe pressure and ankle tension with his artificial limb.

"I was always tuning my own suspension, so I understood shock absorbers," Schultz said. "When it came to fabrication, I'd done a lot of metal work in high school. And I knew something about body mechanics and physical training from being an athlete and racing."

One of his sponsors also loaned him a machining mill and lathe to help tool his own parts for the prosthetics. And Sportech, an Elk River, MN, maker of thermoformed plastic products, helped Schultz computerize his designs with 3D models of each device. Becker also helps with machining and assembly and shoots video of Schultz in action to help market the products.

What really fired Schultz's enthusiasm, though, was a return to competition. He learned about an Adaptive Motocross event in conjunction with the 2009 Summer X Games. Five months after the accident, he'd finished second in a qualifier for the Games.

"It was when I met people there that I realized I wanted to start this business," Schultz said of Biodapt. "At that point, I just hoped I might be able to sell something someday."

Mechanical Models

The Versa Foot, which has six parts and weighs about a pound and a half, went into production this spring. Each model costs about $2,500, and Schultz estimates it cost him about $15,000 to develop. The Moto Knee, which has 15 parts and weighs about four pounds, costs around $6,000.

Matthew Justin Major, a bioengineer at Northwestern University, was among the evaluators of Schultz's Versa Foot for Popular Science Magazine. He says Schultz's prosthetics could have a special appeal to injured military personnel.

"Soldiers are coming home with amputations similar to Mike's," Major told the magazine. "These individuals are physically fit and looking to get back into recreational activities. Some even want to be redeployed."

The Versa Foot might not achieve that, but it will make it more possible for an amputee to enjoy horseback riding, running and wakeboarding, among other pursuits. Schultz does all that and more. Some of his sales are to injured military, and he tours with the America 300 Foundation to encourage vets who have suffered such loss.

He estimates he's already sold devices to more than 80 people - and at a fraction of the cost of the everyday prosthetic he and others wear, which can cost between $50,000 and $90,000. He's been featured by CBS News, Huffington Post and Last Call with Carson Daly.

"I don't have much overhead," said Schultz, whose two-stall detached garage opens onto a workshop and office in the woods near Pillager. "I do all my own (research and development) and my marketing plan is basically to go to events and do well and let the news travel."

He said his ultimate goal is to continue developing products for more activities, produce them with more natural movement and incorporate more electronics. Perhaps best of all, though, he's been a two-time Winter X Games gold medalist in Adaptive SnoCross since 2010. He also earned a gold medal on his motorcycle in an adaptive event at the Summer X Games. He's the only person to win gold in Summer and Winter X Games in the same year.

"I don't go crazy like I used to," Schultz said of his outlook for a recent motocross race in Michigan. "I go 100 percent instead of 110 percent anymore. But hopefully I can keep competing and doing well and the people who need my help will say `I want that foot.' "

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