“Through Loss & Addiction, Paralympic Snowboarder Finds Redemption on Slopes”

2014 Paralympic Silver Medalist, Mike Shea on the track during off-season training gearing up for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games.
2014 Paralympic Silver Medalist, Mike Shea training in New Zealand to kick-off the 2017/2018 Winter Para-Snowboard Season.

Life has its twist and turns that are completely unexpected, which can make or break an individual’s character as they respond from adversity. For many athletes in all levels, this is the environment that most thrive when facing various challenges. Mike Shea’s road to glory has been a journey of life and death.

Mike Shea lost his leg in 2002 from a freak boating accident at the age of 19, while hanging out with some friends in Los Angeles. His leg was stuck in between the ropes as the boat sped off, which resulted in his amputation below his knee. “I didn’t recognize what happened until I saw the blood streaking on the deck,” Shea said. Shea initially didn’t understand how this was going to change his life, but in the moment he sat in the hospital bed and recognized what happened, he was entering a world that he had no knowledge of.

“I really didn’t know anybody who was an amputee,” Shea said. “But in the weeks after the accident, the support that I had from my family and friends helped me during the healing process.” But the most difficult challenge of his life was still to come in the months after the accident. Shea already had serious problems with alcohol before the accident, but after being prescribed painkillers to relieve his physical pain, he started developing a dangerous cycle of coping with his feelings that nearly ended his life.

For the next few years, Shea’s addiction led to numerous problems with his family, as they tried to give him interventions to persuade their requests for rehab. In 2007, Shea finally made the decision to face his demons by going into rehab with the support of his family. “By that time I decided to go on my own, because for years I was in denial of my addiction and didn’t want to get better for myself,” Shea said. “It was until I hit rock bottom and gave up on my life, and that’s when I turned to my parents and asked for help.”

After Shea completed second stint in rehab, he began enjoying other hobbies and learning new things to utilize his curiosity and new perspective on life. “I started doing woodworking as a hobby after my accident,” Shea said. “I started creating jewelry boxes for my mom and dad, and then started doing chairs and other furniture as favors for my neighbors.” Shea’s life would change forever, as he decided to move on from woodworking and pursue his interest in snowboarding. Prior to his accident, he had already started snowboarding through his love for skateboarding in Los Angeles. Once he started putting on the gear, all of his problems seemed a like distance memory and became a better person out of the experience.

One of the main challenges he had to face after losing his leg was figuring how to move with a prosthetic leg and was fearful of not being the athlete that he once was. In order for him to overcome that fear, he began to adjust to the movement of his leg and started to trust it a little more. “It wasn’t until a year in where I started trusting my mind and my leg,” Shea said. “Once that happened I started to dial in and became more confident.” He started participating in Adaptive Snowboarding in mid-2010 when a fellow Adaptive Snowboarder introduced the sport to him, and then Shea sold his woodworking tools and moved to Colorado. “By the time I joined the Paralympic Movement, it felt like I could identify to most the issues they were dealing with,” Shea said.
Shea has become one of the top Adaptive Snowboarders in the world, winning his first championship the World Cup circuit in 2013, and earning a silver medal in the Sochi Paralympic Games in 2014 and now a heavy medal favorite in the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games next March.

Experiencing the excitement of the Sochi Games was one of his defining moments of his life and marked his road to redemption. As Shea looks back of his experience, he still remembers the hard road of beating his drug addiction and become a clean man for his family and friends. “That is the one thing that I will never forget,” Shea said. “Going into the tunnel and experiencing the Opening Ceremonies and you see all the friends that have been there for you through the journey is a humbling experience that I will never forget.” His success reflects on the life lessons of being humble in his accomplishments and showing his character to others looking at him “I never once taken for granted of everything I’ve succeeded in my life,” Shea said.

Now engaged to his fiancé Jamie, he’s now is ready to share his accomplishments with a woman that loves him for who he is.“I learned that she the most passionate woman that I’ve ever met,” Shea said. “I really enjoy being around her became she makes me feel safe, and made me feel loved when I need it the most.”

As he looks back of his whole life, Shea wants people to remember him as a caring and honest person who showed his determination despite enduring tremendous adversity.

“I want to be remembered as someone who goes out of their way to help people and overcome difficult obstacles just like what I endured.”

October 23, 2017
By: Abel Mehari