Mike Schultz has always pushed himself to be the best he can achieve. He was living his dream as one of the top professional snowmobile racers and working his way up the ranks when an accident struck. He was thrown from his machine during a tough race, and a rough landing off his snowmobile resulted in an eventual amputation above the knee. But that didn’t stop Mike. He continued to chase his dream. Unfortunately, there were no prosthetic legs at that time that met his needs. So what did he do? He went ahead and designed his own, of course!
His friends at FOX, a company that makes shock absorbers and racing suspensions, lent him space in the machine shop, and with a few short lessons, he was able to manufacture and assemble the prototype “Moto Knee” himself. Then using his own creation, he went on to win multiple X-Games Gold Medals in the adaptive Snocross and Motocross classes.
He’s now gone on to create a company called Biodapt Inc. that sells his extreme-sports prosthetics to get other amputees back into the games they love. So far, he’s sold 100+ units of his Moto Knee and Versa Foot designs.
Speaking with him, I had a glimpse into Mike’s cheerful and upbeat personality. His passion shone through, and it’s not hard to see how he remained positive about his accident and adapted quickly. This is his inspirational story.
Ben Ouyang, Medgadget: Can you tell me more about the accident?
Mike Schultz: Snowmobiling is physically intense, and racers are bumping elbows on the track with 11 other people, each on 500 pound machines. I was in a qualifier, and had to finish in the top 5. So as I charged a downhill section in 6th place, the sled started pitching uncontrollably and I was thrown off. I extended my leg to brace my fall, but the forced caused it to overextend at the knee. I ended up kicking myself in the chin with the toe of my boot and ended up with my foot on my chest.
Unluckily, a major snowstorm prevented me from being airlifted to the hospital, so it ended up being a 2+-hour trip by ambulance. The damage severed the main nerve that supplied my leg from the knee down, and the popliteal artery. Over the next 3 days, they were unable to get circulation again. My leg started becoming toxic, my kidneys started shutting down, and my life was in danger. They woke me up and gave me the choice of amputation to save my life. On the third day, they amputated my leg. I stayed 13 days in the hospital. It was a rough 2 months because of phantom pain that I’d experienced. Just 5 weeks after the accident, I got a regular prosthesis, and once I started walking again, the phantom pain got better. I was actually riding my snowmobile out in the yard a few days before I got my prosthesis…I used the excuse of having to get the mail!
Medgadget: How did you get involved with making your own prothetic leg?
Mike Schultz: Immediately after getting my prosthetic, I went to the track. But my current prosthetic leg was a simple mechanical hinge system, so there was no bending resistance. If you straightened it, it would lock, and it would buckle immediately when unlocked. It was impossible to ride snowmobile on such an unsupportive joint.
I looked around and there was one company that made sports knees, but it was designed more for skiing, and the range of motion wasn’t what I needed. I took this as a challenge. I found out about ESPN Adaptive Supercross for amputees and paraplegics and I wanted to be a part of it, and in order to do that I needed the best equipment. So in early March 2009, I began toying with my own design.
Medgadget: How did you make the Moto Knee?
Mike Schultz: Ever since I was young, I was always in the shop and fascinated by mechanical devices. Along with my racing background, I understood suspension mechanics, and as an athlete, I could understand body mechanics. Now up to that point, I’ve never done machining, but when I finally started this project some buddies at FOX offered to help me out in their racing facilities. So I drew up the designs in a month during March 2009, and did some basic modeling out of cardboard. I cut out the parts in cardboard, and held the pivots with tacks. It’s a bit archaic, but it got the job done.
Afterwards, I went to the FOX shop to get some pointers on mill and lathe, and after a week, I had a prototype made. It was easy for me to dial it in with trial and error once I had that made. The biggest challenge was figuring out the motion range and resistance of the knee. The foot is fairly simple.
The major components were FOX compressed air shocks, which were extremely adjustable in tension, small, lightweight and built in many different lengths. The other major component is a linkage system that makes it feel natural. I came up with this roller system that changes the force feedback throughout the range of motion. It can give softer resistance for the first 15 degrees, and then stiffen up after that, or be adjusted accordingly.
Then the moment of truth! I tested it out at the X-Games, 7 months after my accident. Amazingly, I won a silver medal on the dirt bike!
Medgadget: Tell me about the Versa Foot.
Mike Schultz: I ran into issues with versions of prosthetic feet that were made for walking. The carbon fiber soles could only bend about 5-10 degrees, which made it uncomfortable on the snowmobile. So I used the same strategies as in the Moto Knee and fitted an adjustable suspension system in so I could keep my entire foot on the snowmobile running board as my knee flexed. And it’s adjustable too: riding snowmobile, I release the air pressure and it’s a lot more flexy.
Medgadget: What makes the Moto Knee and Versa Foot better for sports than other prosthetics?
Mike Schultz: Our goal at Biodapt is to build the leading edge performance sports prosthetics. The tension is adjustable so you don’t need three different legs to do different sports. When I went to a motocross event I saw how it could be adjusted to others, and made changes accordingly. It works for skiing, snowboarding, cycling, horseback riding, cross country skiing, motorcycles, swimming…the list goes on. It’s basically one device that can be adapted. We’ve sold over 100 prosthetics so far.
Medgadget: Do you have any tips for someone who wants to develop prosthetics?
Mike Schultz: The great thing about prosthetics is that it’s always different. It’s always changing and evolving, depending on size, and where the amputation is. It’s rewarding – being able to help someone with equipment to do something they weren’t able to do before.
I would highly recommend to attend an adaptive sports event and see the athletes using the prosthetic equipment. This will definitely give you a great perspective on the different levels of activity as well as the different equipment that is being used. It’ll blow their minds to see people using this stuff. It opens the door wide for imagination. A couple great Adaptive organizations for action sports are the Extremity Games (www.extremitygames.com) and the Adaptive Action Sports (www.adacs.org). Beyond that, I’m sure you could contact almost any prosthetic clinic and they’d be happy to fill you in on some info about the field.
Link: Biodapt Inc.