Ten-year pro snocross racer Mike "Monster" Schultz entered the 2008-09 season facing a number of new challenges: He had a new team and a new sled brand, and ISOC presented a new racing format in its first year of organizing the national tour.
None of this would prepare Schultz, known for a gritty determination that gave rise to his nickname, for a life-changing challenge that was to come, however. On Dec. 12, 2008, at the second stop of the series in Ironwood, Mich., Schultz suffered an injury that resulted in the amputation of his left leg. But in the weeks following the accident, Schultz lived up to his nickname more than ever. Battling through tremendous pain, he was back riding at the Park X practice track in Hill City, Minn., a month and a half after losing his leg.
Similarly, the snocross community has rallied around the 27-year-old from tiny Pillager, Minn., by donating sleds and memorabilia and holding a benefit to aid in his recovery. ISOC has since retired Schultz's racing number, No. 5, in honor of the Monster and his influence on the sport. And, it turns out, Schultz's gritty determination continues to shine through now as ever.
Last month, during the Snocross nationals weekend at Hayward, Wis., ESPN Snowmobiling caught up with Schultz for an interview.
Take us through the accident at Ironwood.
Mike Schultz: "It was the first qualifier for the stock class, and I had a nasty start. I hit the trigger, and I think I just spun a trench and got left in the dust. I got up to sixth place and I was battling with [Bobby] LePage, trying to get around him. The track had some pretty gnarly high-speed downhills on it. About halfway through the race, I came down one of the hills, and there was a lot of snow dust, and I couldn't see real well. I just kind of got crossed up a little sideways, nothing real bad. But I couldn't spot the landing, so I wasn't quite ready for it and landed kind of stiff-legged on my left leg; it just popped. I fell off to the side, and my sled just coasted away, didn't even roll. I just flopped off to the side. My leg was pointing the wrong way, so I'm laying on the ground and my leg is up by my chest. I slammed it down because I was freaked out. [Laughter] It just didn't look right at all. It was just so painful right away. It seemed like it took forever for someone to get there. I knew it was bad. I was kind of screaming, and a couple guys came over and zipped my pant leg open, and blood just gushed out."
"I knew it was bad, but there wasn't a thought in my mind that they were going to have to amputate it. I kind of figured they could bolt anything together. [But] I lost so much blood on the track, they weren't able to give me pain medicines right away. So then we went to the Ironwood hospital and they couldn't take care of me there, they just didn't have the facility to do anything. They gave me just a little shot of morphine and sent me on the way to Duluth, which was two hours away."
In a helicopter?
"[Laughter] Yeah, they had some bad weather in Duluth, so the chopper couldn't fly. And people don't want to pull over for ambulances very well! [Laughter] It just seemed like it took forever. But once we got to Saint Mary's in Duluth, there was a group of 10 or 12 people there ready to take care of me, and I was just relieved. That was the start of the process of the surgeries. They knocked me out and I thought, 'Finally, some pain meds!'"
You were alert despite losing so much blood?
"Yeah, I wish I would have passed out because it was so painful. Thank God my wife was there. She's a nurse, and she was by my side from the time I got loaded up at the track. She wasn't getting emotional. She just kind of went into work mode, doing whatever she could to make it better. And she was the only person the whole time who could keep me somewhat calm so I didn't pass out. I'm so glad she was around. She actually fought her way to be able to ride in the ambulance on the way to Duluth."
How much blood did they end up giving you?
"They gave me over 30 units of blood. As soon as I get well enough, I'm going to go donate blood [laughs], because thank God for the people who donate blood! I was going through so much of it."
How many surgeries did you have?
"I ended up having three consecutive surgeries throughout two and a half days. The first surgery was just to kind of clean it up and see what was all damaged to take care of the bleeding. And they kind of patched it together the best they could, but I had no feeling in it. It severed the main nerve and artery that supplies the lower leg right underneath the knee joint. They were able to get blood down to my foot after the first surgery, but it wouldn't circulate back."
When were you presented with the prospect of amputation?
"After the third surgery, I woke up and was told we had a tough decision to make. So they told us what the problems were with the nerves, arteries and whatnot. I was in shock, and my heart just kind of sank. I listened to what they thought was the best route and I was like, 'Yeah, all right, I don't want to drag around a limb that doesn't work at all.' So they took it off about four inches above the knee joint."
How was the rest of your time in the hospital?
"It was tough. There was a whole week where it was real nasty from the trauma and loss of blood. It messed me up pretty bad. They couldn't figure out how to take care of the pain. I was just in agony for four days or so before they could figure out the right combination of meds to take care of it. The crazy part, with all of the surgeries I had, I retained water from the IV fluids and I gained 60 pounds. I was 247 pounds at my maximum. I couldn't even touch my face because my joints were swollen. I was so big, it was ridiculous, just insane. They started giving me medicine to get rid of the fluid, and in one day I lost 15 pounds."
When did you get to go home?
"My overall hospital stay was 12 days. I think about the last four days I was able to start moving around getting up on my foot and walking to the bathroom and stuff. I got home on Christmas Eve day. A couple of days after Christmas, I got to feeling somewhat normal. I was really battling the pain."
How long did you fight the severe pain?
"Up to about a month ago I couldn't sleep at night because the pain was so bad. It felt like my foot was still there, and it was just a crazy thing, I swear I could see it there yet. And it hurt. It was just cramping all of the time. It was tough to get used to. Finally, after a while it just got a little better and a little better, and it's pretty decent now. I still feel it a little bit, but it's definitely manageable. I can sleep at night now."
And now you have a prosthetic?
"My prosthetic has been going excellent. I got fitted for it five weeks after the accident, and I got it just under six weeks after. The first time they had the complete leg done, I went in there and took a couple steps on it without using the bars or anything. I used crutches, but I was able to do a few steps without them. I was pretty pumped because the prosthetist said they had never seen anybody up on their prosthetic so fast after an accident like that."
And you've already been back on a sled?
"I took my snowmobile for a ride two weeks after I was home. [Smiling] I didn't have my leg yet, but I had to go get the mail! So I fired it up and went down the ditch a couple miles. It was different, but I had a big smile on my face, just finally getting outside and doing something. I've been on the sled a couple times since I got my new leg."
"I'm actually going to be signing up for the mechanics race at Lake Geneva [Wis.], so I'll do what I can down there. I might cartwheel down the hill hard, but I don't even care, it's just for fun. I haven't been on a track yet. I was launching some road approaches the other day, so we're working up to it. We'll get some practice in next week up at Hill City."
And rumor has it you might try some cross-country snowmobile racing, too?
"Yeah, nothing serious, it won't be like a top priority, but it's something I want to try. I always wanted to run it and see how I liked, so you know, next year, I definitely want to try a couple weekends and see how that goes."
And you've been supporting your team at the races?
"Since Canterbury, I've been working with my teammates, the semi-pro and pro guys, just trying to coach them anyway I can. Working with the semi-pros and watching them race isn't so bad. But when I watch the pro class race, it's really tough. I'm not going to lie. It's hard, and it's getting harder every weekend, it seems. I'm just trying to keep myself busy with our other riders and focus on them."
So you plan on staying involved in snocross?
"Yeah I'm just trying to have as much fun as I can. Next year, I'm not sure, but working with [Warnert Racing's snocross team] as an athlete manager is a really good option for me. You know, just trying to stay in it any way I can. I have some things going with my family's construction company that might end up being good, too. Now I don't have to focus on training six days a week, so I have some time to focus on a real job, I guess [laughter]."
Do you have plans to get back on a motocross bike?
"Yeah, I'm doing some research on an electronic shifter, to take care of the shifting for me. And there's an event called Extremity Games. It's for adaptive athletes with missing limbs and stuff, and motocross is one of the sports. It's in Michigan in July, so I might try to train to race there. It's actually a qualifier for the Summer X Games adaptive motocross, too. So yeah, I'll get my bike set up and see what I can do. I have to get the right knee combination, too, to make things work. I'm definitely going to try and see how I end up. Hopefully I don't land on my head too hard."
Anyone you'd like to thank or give a shout-out to?
"At the top of the list is definitely my wife, Sara. She's just been a rock for me. I'd be a complete mess if she wasn't taking care of all of my appointments, because it's almost every day. My whole family, too."
"The snocross community put together a benefit in Brainerd Thursday before the snocross there. It was outstanding. We figure about 1,500 people came, and all of the teams brought their semis and opened them up for the public to check everything out. The silent auction raised just about $40,000 to help out toward my prosthetic leg expenses."
"Warnerts have been just open arms, whatever they can do to help me out. It's just been excellent. I feel like I've been with Warnerts and Ski-Doo for years, but I just signed with them in September. They've just treated me great. Ski-Doo and Polaris each donated a sled to me to put toward expenses. Everyone in the snocross community and the Brainerd area has just been so helpful, so I have to thank everybody."