Local Paralympian shares lessons of resilience with students

Paralympic silver medalist Mike Shea empowers students to make the best of their situations during an assembly at Castaic Middle School on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. Ryan Painter/The Signal

Castaic-native Mike Shea is a Paralympic snowboarder who is a three-time World Champion medalist and X-Games competitor.  In 2014, he competed in the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games where he won a silver medal in snowboard-cross.

And on Tuesday, Shea returned to his hometown and his former middle school to share a message of inspiration with Castaic Middle School students.

“This is the first time I’m here.  It’s actually really cool,” Shea said.  “I enjoy speaking to students more than I enjoy speaking to adults.  I think because they’re at such a young age where they can absorb everything… and they’re fun.  They’re so lighthearted and the questions that they ask are so much different than what an adult would ask.”

Shea’s visit to his hometown was part of the nonprofit One-Revolutions’ Nametags program, which brings Paralympic athletes to school assemblies to teach students about resilience when faced with challenges.

During these assemblies, Paralympic athletes use their own stories of triumph to show students they can choose the “nametags” they wear while sharing the motto: “It not what happens to you.  It’s what you do with what happens to you.”

As a child, Shea was always involved in sports, an element of his life that was core to his identity.  But Shea said he was also naïve and didn’t understand what he needed to do to succeed in life.

Paralympic silver medalist snowboarder Mike Shea encourages Castaic Middle School students to control their own paths at a Red Ribbon Week assembly on Tueday, Oct. 24, 2017.

However, this all changed in 2002 when 19-year-old Shea was wakeboarding with friends at Castaic Lake’s Upper Lagoon.

As Shea was sitting on the railing of the boat he was thrown overboard and became tangled in rope from the boat’s swim deck.

“I went into the water and remember feeling the rope wrapped around neck and arms,” Shea said.  “I unraveled it from around my neck just as it sliced down the back of my arm, it tightened up around my ankle and I heard this loud pop.”

When his friends rushed to his side and pulled him out of the water, Shea realized the rope had instantly amputated his lower left leg.

“My life changed from that point forward and I made a decision to not be the victim, but to be the survivor of that situation regardless of that was going to take,” Shea said.  “I made it a point to get back on my snowboard a couple months after my amputation because I wasn’t going to let this amputation change my life or my future.”

Students and staff listen as Paralympic snowboarder Mike Shea shares his story at an assembly in the Castaic Middle School gym on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. Ryan Painter/The Signal

Shea also shared how this change brought him new struggles to face as his “nametags” changed from snowboarder, immature and selfish to snowboarder, supported, addict.

As a result of his amputation and recovery, Shea became addicted to prescription pain medications; however, with the support of his family and by using the 4 S’s of resiliency—self, situation, support and strategy—Shea was able to overcome his addiction, rebuild trust with his family and friends, find a new support system and start his own woodworking business.

A few years later, in 2010, Shea was invited to train with and join the Paralympic Snowboarding Team and represent the United States around the world.

“You might think that’s a limitation that could be a disability, it could be a disadvantage, but in all actuality this disability, this amputation, is what sets me apart from other people,” Shea said.  “It’s taught me the tools I needed to succeed in life, it’s given me the ability to adapt, overcome and prevail in many of the circumstances I’ve been put in over the last 10-15 years of my life.  It’s really allowed me to do some amazing things, travel to be some amazing places and being an amputee is really what brought me here today.”

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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