As a professional athlete, “Monster” Mike Schultz has experienced all the thrills and dangers of extreme sports.
He’s won four medals at the X Games for snowmobile and motocross racing, but his latest award might be his biggest yet.
Popular Science recently named Schultz’s Versa Foot one its Inventions of the Year for 2013.
The Versa Foot is a custom-built foot and ankle prosthetic designed for amputees looking to get back on the snowboard, the racetrack or any other high-impact sport.
“It’s gotta be one of the most versatile secondary leg systems that are available right now,” he told CNN. “It’s an amazing feeling when I have a customer who tries a leg on and is able to go snowboarding for the first time.”
Schultz, 32, grew up in Minnesota loving to race.
“I was always out wiping around on the farm with three-wheelers and four-wheelers. I loved the speed and the adrenaline rush that followed,” he said.
But he became an inventor and earned another nickname — the Mad Scientist — by necessity after one of his races took a tragic turn. During a snowmobile race on December 8, 2008, Schultz began to lose control of his vehicle.
“We were coming down a really rough mogul section and my machine started going side to side, I wasn’t able to hang on to it, and it kind of kicked me off to the side,” he said. “Instantly, the most pain I’ve ever been in. I tumbled away from my snowmobile, stopped rolling and my boot is on my chest.”
Schultz had a compound fracture and a severed artery. After a couple of days in the hospital, his health began taking a turn for the worse.
“My kidneys were shutting down. Basically I was getting poisoned from the inside out,” he said.
In order to save his life, doctors had to amputate his leg.
“When he said that, I was like ‘Now what? I’m a professional athlete. This is what I do for a living, I train year-round, and now I’m not going to have a leg,” he said. “That was a hard one to swallow.”
But instead of retiring, Schultz decided to move forward right away with a plan to get back on his feet.
Within five and a half weeks of his accident, he was up and walking on his first prosthetic leg. A couple of weeks after that, he was back on the snowmobile.
His new leg, however, wasn’t giving him the motion and movement he needed to race. Schultz began looking for other prosthetic options, but he couldn’t find one that would let him get back to top speed.
“When you get into action sports you need a full range of motion, and I didn’t really see what I wanted. So I thought, how about I just build my own leg? ”
Schultz set up shop in a racing garage and began experimenting. Using a mountain bike shock and custom-made parts, he had soon created his very own leg.
“I bolted it on and kind of squatted and jumped up and down and I’m like, ‘This might just work,'” he said. “I went over to the dirt bike, fired it up, and within minutes I knew that I was on to something good.”
He called his creation the Moto Knee. The device was a unique design that blended a shock absorber with lightweight materials made to withstand the pounding of action sports.
“The biggest difference between Moto Knee and an everyday prosthetic leg is my Moto Knee has spring return, which helps me stand up, and then hydraulic damping that absorbs impact from when I land off a big jump,” he said.
Seven months after losing his leg, Schultz took the silver medal in the X Games’ Adaptive Motocross race, which features riders that have suffered severe injuries. The next year he won gold. All on a leg that he built himself.
And now, he’s not the only one using it.
“I started to meet these other adaptive athletes and see that they could benefit from something like this. And I’m thinking, ‘I should start a business out of this.'”
So Schultz founded BioDapt, a Minnesota-based company that produces prosthetics for extreme-sport athletes and others who want to get back to their active lifestyles. Wounded veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan make up a lot of BioDapt’s customers.
“We are able to get them Moto Knees and back in action on things that they want to do,” Schultz said. “Something that I’ve built in my shop is allowing them to shred the slopes. It’s so rewarding.”