If you’ve been watching television over the last couple months, you might have come across a Tempurpedic Mattress commercial with a snowboarder… with one leg. That tough as nails gal is Michelle Salt, a paralympic boardercross racer from Calgary, who lost her right leg in an accident back in 2011. Paul Bourdon chatted with Michelle to find out where she’s come from and how she does it….
Give us some basics… I grew up on a game farm outside of a small town in Central Alberta. I now live in Calgary. I ride for Olive Snowboards and love supporting a local company making great boards. I started riding Rabbit Hill when I was 13 and have been addicted ever since!
Some people might not know your story, so fill us in on life before the accident, the accident and where you are now… Life before the accident was busy. I was working as a Realtor, a Sales rep for a large company and had just competed in my first fitness competition. June 27th, 2011, I lost control of my motorcycle going 120/kms an hour. I hit the guardrail head first, did cartwheels in the air and hit the guardrail again. I broke many bones in both my legs, pelvis, hips, back, clavicle, and right femur, which severed my femoral artery. I was on life support for 7 days, required 28 units of blood and lost my right leg quite high above my knee. I decided pretty soon after finding out about my leg that I wanted to be a paralympic and in March, I made that goal a reality when I competed in the Sochi Games. Now, I’m just training hard on and off the snow to prepare for 2018 and make Canada proud.
Describe the recovery process from your accident. What motivated you? What was your biggest challenge? Were there ever times you wanted to give up? There was nothing easy about my recovery. I spent five months in the hospital starting with simple tasks like sitting up back to back with my physio for 30 seconds, and trying to take a shower without assistance. What kept me going was knowing I would eventually get back on my snowboard and do the things I loved again. The hardest part was the waiting process. I wasn’t allowed to do much until my bones healed so I spent a lot of time reading and resting. Of course there were times when I just wanted to give up and not put the work in but every time I had those thoughts, I would remind myself what was needed to get to the paralympics and that did not include giving up.
How different does snowboarding feel now to you? Does it feel different at all? Do you feel like you have the same range of motion/ability? It’s very different. The biggest challenge for me was figuring out my prosthetic sports knee. Because I got back on my snowboard 8 months after my accident, my body was still healing so there were many variables that changed over the years like the strength in my amputated leg. Eventually I learned to use my hips and body mass to go deep into my turns and my arms to absorb features. After almost 6 years, I’m still learning and progressing every time I get on my board.
Tell us about competing in the paralympics. What an incredible experience. Watching how badass and intense paralympic athletes are was an eye opener. I was able to witness athletes putting everything into their races and not letting anything hold them back, especially a “disability”. Even though I was still figuring out how ride boardercross, I saw the 2014 games as an opportunity to soak it all in and apply what I learned to the 4 years leading up to the 2018 games.
You work with Mark Fawcett, a legendary name in the world of snowboarding. What is it like to work with him and some of the things you’ve learned working with that guy? At first, it was intimidating to work with such a successful athlete as Mark but it didn’t take long to learn that Mark is a rad and humble guy. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today as an athlete without him. He’s the person that always has an allen key and shock pump ready in case I need to adjust my prosthetic leg. He encourages me to push myself out of my comfort zone which has results in many successes and he is never short on hilarious stories and travel tips.
He’s the person that always has an allen key and shock pump ready in case I need to adjust my prosthetic leg.
Could you see yourself participating in snowboarding outside of the competitive arena? That is, do you have any desire to film a video part? For sure! My focus has been boardercross for the last 5 years but outside of training and competing, I love park lap days with my friends. Before my accident, that was my thing and I hope someday I can get back to hitting the big booters and riding back country.
You are also working toward making the Canadian national para-cycling team. Do you feel like there are a lot of parallels in that realm to snowboarding? That is to say, is the process similar or is it a whole different world? It’s a different world for sure but it taught me to be more mentally tough. Riding a two minute boardercross course is very challenging in a lot of ways but riding a road bike with one leg up a mountain for 19 kms in +35 weather is a whole different ball game. Snowboarding is more about skill and strategy. Cycling is more about pushing through the pain. I’m glad I took up cycling because now, I appreciate the competing process that much more.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face day to day due to your injuries? There are still daily challenges such as walking up and down stairs with a prosthetic leg and carrying heavy objects like my snowboard bag. I need a bit more assistance and have more restrictions than the rest of my team but I have an amazing team that is always helpful and encouraging.
What do you feel it is important for people who have full function of their bodies to realize or understand about people who don’t? Yes we live with so called “disabilities” but that doesn’t make us unable to live a normal life. I still do all the things I love, plus more. Sure I’ve had to adjust and adapt to do these things but that just makes them that much better! Also, don’t take things for granted like I did. I used to complain about having to walk up the stairs to get my laundry or having to grab my phone from my car on a cold day. That now for me is a mission.
Talk to us about the technology involved in your prosthetic devices. Do you think 15 years ago you would have been able to make the same kind of recovery? Not at all. Prosthetics have come along way in 15 years. I had a friend give me one of his grandpas legs from 20 years ago and to see what I am now walking with is crazy. It from simple wood legs with a hinge like what terry fox had to bionic computerized knees. I can’t wait to see what us amputees while be able to do in another 15 years.
What advice do you have for fellow female snowboarders? Why do you think women’s snowboarding doesn’t get the attention it deserves? I think it’s come along way in the last 18 years I’ve been riding. Before you would hardly see female riders riding for shops or hitting the same courses as the men but now we have women stomping big tricks and posting close times to the men in sbx. I’ve always been a tomboy so I like the challenge of being better than the guys. Doesn’t always work out but it’s sure fun to try.
I’ve always been a tomboy so I like the challenge of being better than the guys. Doesn’t always work out but it’s sure fun to try.
When you’re not training, or competing what kind of riding do you like best? I love ripping groomers and side hits. Always down for park laps too! I’m still working on my tree riding without hitting any trees.
Is snowboarding how you make a living? I wish I would live off snowboarding but the reality is our sport in the paralympic world is still new, so we do cover a lot of our expenses. I support myself as a Realtor working seven months out of the year and doing speaking engagements throughout the whole year across North America.
What passions do you have outside of snowboarding? I LOVE riding the motorcross course on my CRF 150R. Maybe, just maybe, this will be the next sport I pursue. I also spend as much time as I can snowbiking, camping, BMXing, hitting the gym and paddleboarding.
What advice would you give to girls who want to make a career for themselves in snowboarding? There will be doubters and haters but don’t ever let someone tell you it can’t be done or make you question your potential.