In 2002, Mike Shea was wakeboarding with friends on a lake outside of Los Angeles, and in a split second, his leg became tangled in ropes as the boat sped off. Though he was able to untangle a bit, the rope came taut and amputated his lower left leg.
The accident was something that changed Shea’s life in an instant. While it took some time to settle in mentally, it only took a few months for him to reemerge into the physical life he knew before. “Once I got the prosthetic I was back to walking and even back to snowboarding,” says Shea, who had enjoyed the winter sport before the accident. “But mentally, the recovery took a lot longer.”
I didn’t deal with the fact that I lost a limb.
“I was positive after the accident, maybe even a little too positive,” says Shea, who believed he masked underlying emotions about his accident. It wasn’t immediately, but he started to spiral into a dark place of alcohol and drug abuse. “I was on pain meds,” says Shea, “and I think I was self-medicating. I just smiled it away, but eventually I had to face it.”
“It wasn’t that I was struggling to live life with this disability, or that I was sad about it,” he says. “I just never really processed it fully. I didn’t deal with the fact that I lost a limb.”
Shea finally began to face this mental and emotional process in 2007 when he went into rehab for drug and alcohol abuse; he emerged completely sober. “My family and my girlfriend were a really good support system,” says Shea. “I think that’s what was most important for me to get past it.”
Lost Limb, Gained Perspective
After rehab, Shea’s life took a turn. “I realized I needed to do something a little more with life.” That’s when he started to spend hours in his garage woodworking. “I need something to focus on, and I really loved it,” he says. He started getting clients and soon was running a successful business building furniture. He went snowboarding on his time off.
Then he received a call from a Paralympic coach in Colorado who had watched him snowboard in Lake Tahoe. The coach asked if he wanted to try out for the team,
so in 2010 he closed his shop, sold his tools and moved to Colorado to start training in Winter Park at the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
He made quick gains in the sport, eventually earning a silver medal at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. Today, Shea is training for the chance to compete in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea and coaching up-and-coming adaptive athletes at the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
Looking forward, he’s more passionate than ever to do what he can to give back and help others facing the same challenges he did after his accident, like working with other adaptive snowboarders and becoming involved with the Wings For Life World Run.
“The World Run is something that I’ve known about for quite some time,” says Shea, whose girlfriend was involved in the run for the past two years. “The event gives back to spinal cord research and that appeals to me, to find a cure for those who live with that disability,” says Shea. “It has affected so many friends that I’m close with, and many on the Alpine Team. I want to be a part of that, to raise money and do what I can to provide support for others with a disability.”