Then they were racing on Gariwangsan mountain, outside Pyeongchang, in a reconnaissance event a year before the real thing. And fuck if Schultz didn’t wipe out again, clipping the back edge of his board in the belly of a roller and slamming his head into the ground to rack up another concussion. He had to sit out the boardercross event. Days later, he took bronze in the banked slalom. Once again, Vos won.
And then there he was, atop the slopes of Gariwangsan mountain, outside Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the biggest race of his life—the finals of the men’s boardercross at the 2018 Paralympics. Schultz was also wearing a target on his chest: He’d won the U.S. national championship in boardercross, then the world championship in both boardercross and banked slalom.
Yet through his business he’d become a beloved figure on the circuit, with 15 athletes using his models at the Paralympics. Noah Elliot, a skateboarder who’d taken up snowboarding after he lost his left leg above the knee to cancer at 17, had reached out to Schultz to get fitted with a prosthetic knee and foot. Schultz not only set him up with his products, he became Elliot’s first sponsor. “I ended up beating him on his own setup,” Elliot says of a banked slalom event. “Mike was the first one to tell me I’d won. We high-fived.”
In that manner, Schultz worked his way into the hearts of his teammates. They voted him the flag bearer to lead the U.S. delegation into the stadium in Pyeongchang for the Opening Ceremony. At competitions, he helped athletes tweak their Moto Knees and Versa Foots, fine tuning them to the conditions of each course. That took precious time from his own preparations, but he wanted the best for his clients—and wanted them at their best when he beat them.
Now he edged forward in the starting ramp, gripped the metal frame, and cocked his board back. His left pant leg, trimmed below the American flag on his thigh, exposed his Moto Knee. Coiled opposite Schultz was Chris Vos, now 20 years old. Even though Schultz had dominated the past season, winning the World Cup, he knew that on any given day, Vos could beat him.
In the bleachers below the finish, Sara Schultz grew tense, pacing restlessly. For twenty years she’d been going to her husband’s races, ever since high school. This was the hardest part, standing by. She’d already watched Mike race four times that day, knowing that each run could be his last. At 36, his body had a lot of hard miles on it. With her eyes locked on the jumbotron, she threw a full-throated cheer up the mountain to her husband.
Out of the gate, Schultz nailed the quick start he wanted, legs bent, weight on his back foot, rolling into the first bump slightly ahead of Vos, picking up speed. Through the first two rollers, he continued to pull ahead of his rival. The third bump was bigger. Schultz got plenty of air, landing on the backside of the next roller. But Vos went too big, landing hard, and his brace failed to absorb the impact—he pitched forward.