Growing up in Abilene, TX, Michael Spivey didn’t have much time to get involved in sports. He started working a full time job at the age of 16 to pay rent, which kept him pretty busy during those years. But after an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion that eventually led to an upper limb amputation, sports quickly became a passion and also a substitution for therapy and medication for the retired United States Marine Corps Sergeant.
Spivey joined the Marine Corps in 2005 as one way for him to help pay for school. He had another unique connection to the Marines though. “I was born at (Camp) Lejeune,” he said. As a Combat Engineer, he was stationed at Okinawa for the first few years, building schools and bridges in Asia. In 2008, he was deployed to Iraq. One night, his truck hit an IED on its return back to base but luckily that left him unscathed. After returning from deployment, he was reassigned to Camp Pendleton. “I was there for about nine months, then got deployed again.” It was during his second deployment, to Afghanistan, where things didn’t go well. “We were on foot patrol in Sangin which is in the Helmand Province, and I was on point with a metal detector looking for things that didn’t have metal in them,” Spivey said about that day, December 10th, 2010. The IED severely wounded his left arm and he suffered shrapnel injuries to his back and legs. His unit took a big hit as well, one that was deemed the most dangerous period in Afghanistan for the U.S. with a loss of 25 guys and about 125 were injured, most of which became amputees.
He would end up in San Diego, CA for rehabilitation. Early on, a number of surgeons were working to see if they could save the arm. The doctor told him he would never be able to make a fist again. “I told them to cut it off and give me something I can work with.” He ultimately made the decision to have his arm amputated below the elbow. “I could have gone through limb salvage, but I didn’t want to walk around with a dead arm,” he said. “I had to watch a video, go through counseling, and chat with other service members in similar positions before going through with it.” That day, January 6th, 2011 did come, which happened to be the same day Spivey had graduated from boot camp years earlier.
During rehab, the recreational therapist introduced him to adaptive sports. He tried tennis, hiking, golf, and a surf clinic. “I soon realized through this experience that I needed less medication to fall asleep- mainly because I would go until the point of exhaustion.” He also incorporated going to the gym, to help rebuild the muscle he had lost due to the blast, and soon came to the realization he didn’t want or need the pain meds anymore either. Even though everything still hurt, Spivey would rather deal with the pain and be free of the medication “So I started taking up every sport I could.” He did multiple marathons and even one triathlon. “I can say that I did one, and I can say that I probably won’t do another one.”
One sport that Spivey really took to was snowboarding. “I went to Ski Spec in 2011 and have been there every year since. My first time there, I happened to be there on my Alive Day.” His first day out, he was doing black diamonds. The second year he spent his time with Kep (snowboard coach Chris Koeppe) and hanging around the race camp. “I started asking questions like ‘How do I join a team?’ and ‘How do I get classified?’ He had to wait until the following year because he missed the deadline, but Spivey would get classified in 2013.
After a tumultuous year where Spivey lost multiple family members and friends, he decided to join Telluride Adaptive Sports (a chapter of Disabled Sports USA) on their trip to Chile in 2014. “I realized the mountains were a part of healing every time.” Given that, and the fact that he was only snowboarding one or two weeks a year, one day Spivey stepped out of his house with nothing more than a board and a bag of clothes and headed to Colorado. With no real plans on how to make it happen and nowhere to stay “I stepped out on faith,” confident that this is what he was supposed to do in order to heal. It was definitely the right time too, as it was in 2014 at the Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi where snowboarding was first introduced as a Paralympic sport. He connected with Adaptive Action Sports, another DSUSA chapter, and started riding with some of their athletes. “I set a big goal for myself and then a couple of smaller goals to help reach the big goal.” In 2017, he would compete for in the Banked Slalom and Snowboard Cross events at Word Championships. His top finish was 11th that year. Spivey would also compete for Team USA at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. “The feeling (of having this opportunity) is indescribable,” he said. “On one hand it was super exciting, with the crowds and the fans and all that hard work finally paying off. On another, it didn’t feel any different since I was competing against the same group of athletes. It was just another race… another day at the office.
Just a couple of months prior to heading over to South Korea, Spivey got married to his wife Kris, who also enjoys athletic competition, triathlons in particular. And what date did they marry? January 6th!
There are a lot of factors at play regarding whether Spivey will seek to compete at the next Winter Paralympic Games in 2022 in Beijing, China, the biggest being his recent marriage and talk about starting a family. He will continue to train and compete but hopes that adaptive snowboarding continues to grow, catches the attention of younger athletes and that the competition gets to the point that, “I don’t get to go,” he said. He is eyeing the possibility of competing in surfing in 2020, but that is another story.