How it all started…
On a snowy day in November 1993, I stepped into my first pair of skis. Unknowingly, that moment would shape the next twenty years of my life.
From a young age, I wanted to be an adventurer. My love for extreme sports kicked off at 12 years old. You could find me cliff diving, skateboarding, wakeboarding, mountain biking, skiing or snowboarding in my spare time, taking on any sport where I could push my personal limits.
At age 14, I got my first pair of twin tip skis (hand-me-downs from my older brother). After just one season of freestyle skiing, I was hooked. I’d found my passion; skiing became my number one focus.
The following winter, I joined the Silver Star Freestyle Club and began taking skiing to new heights. My teammates were all set on doing the same thing: becoming professional skiers. I got my first taste of competition in 2003 and there was no turning back. Before long, I was performing at the provincial, national, and international level.
Unfortunately, I suffered two broken ankles, derailing my dreams of competing professionally. With endorsements on the line and higher stakes in the competition tour, this was devastating timing. I tried to push through and compete, but my competitive results suffered. The harsh realization that I would need to stop skiing to let my ankles fully heal set in, and I painstakingly stepped back from the competitive side of the sport.
My love for skiing kept me involved in the freestyle community. I began coaching at Silver Star, my local ski club on the weekends to help put myself through university. In 2010, after completing my business degree, I moved to Whistler, BC and fell in love with the coastal mountains. Shortly after the move to Whistler, I was hired as the head coach of the British Columbia Freestyle Ski Team.
In my first high-performance coaching role, I worked with the top athletes from all over BC. By 2012, I moved up the coaching ladder and was working with national development athletes from all over Canada. We traveled the world competing all over North America, Europe, and New Zealand. In the summer months, I worked on the Blackcomb Glacier for Momentum Ski Camps as their Terrain Park Designer/Builder and coach.
I was living my dream, traveling the world to ski some of the best terrain and competition venues imaginable–just in a slightly different way than I’d planned. I figured out how to “ski and survive” and do it professionally. Rarely a month went by where I was away from snow or off my skis.
The fateful day that changed everything…
On December 16th, 2013 while skiing with my team in Colorado, life as I knew it changed in an instant. I was at Keystone Mountain skiing in the terrain park when I had a severe accident. In a ‘scorpion-like’ crash, I dislocated and broke my neck, paralyzing me from the neck down.
At that moment, everything that I loved about skiing was ripped away. My athletes were tasked with helping me get off the snow and get the medical attention I so direly needed. Fortunately, I was in surgery hours later. My surgeon assured me it was the only hope for recovery from the crash.
Following the surgery, I miraculously began to heal, but the accident changed my life forever. It was not an easy road, but I set off down a new path riddled with hardship and seemingly insurmountable challenges. I needed to be more resilient than ever to achieve my end goal – getting back on skis.
The following years, post-crash, were loaded with peaks and valleys of good times and hard times. I think my determined, yet gracious, demeanor would ultimately be the saving grace. I approached the recovery like any other challenge I’d faced, but this time my foundation was gratitude. I chose to be thankful for every step forward I made, sharing the journey. My story started to spread on social media. My new mantra: being #gratefuleveryday.
Back on my feet! – a short timeline:
- 3.5 months after the accident: Walked out of the hospital.
- 4 months after the accident: Skiing at Revelstoke Mountain in an adaptive sit-ski with the Live It Love It Foundation.
- 5 months: Relearned to ride a bike and drive.
- 6 months: Entered the Scotia Bank Marathon in Vancouver and walked 5km in 1.5 hours raising $3.5K for Spinal Cord Injury BC
- First ‘neck-break-iversary’ (exactly one year later): Stepped back into the same pair of skis I crashed on, and went skiing in Whistler, surrounded by friends and supporters.
- 1 year, 5 months: Ran in the Wings For Life World Run as an ambassador for Spinal Cord Injury. I was “running for those who can’t,” pushing myself and making it almost 10km before the race was over.
- 2 years: Achieved one of my lifelong goals – I went heli-skiing! This was an achievement, regardless of whether or not I’d had the accident.
- 2016: Released a documentary on Redbull TV called: Mike Shaw The Healing Agent.
- 2017: TEDx Stanley Park ~ Grief Happens
- 2018, I conquered the Red Bull 400 Race, an all-out grind straight up a 400M Olympic Ski Jump (in under ten minutes).
- 2019: Co-captain for a group of over 700 Canadians on #TeamCoast2Coast, uniting Canada’s fundraising efforts for the Wings For Life World Run and spinal cord injury research.
- 2020: Wrote the book, Never Part of The Plan
- I now travel around North America working with students, athletes, and organizations. I speak to large groups and continues to inspire the next generation of young people.
I know that my journey back to the mountains has been nothing short of miraculous. I feel fortunate every day to have recovered from spinal cord injury. The story is documented on Red Bull TV, CBC, NBC, CTV, Global TV, and YouTube. My TEDx talk has reached thousands of people and continues to help those suffering through challenging times. I am faced with challenges every day related to spinal cord injury, however, I strive to achieve more and keep pushing my personal limits.
My message is simple, we all get to choose our attitude and effort every day. It’s a universal right we all have. Some things don’t go to plan or are never part of the plan. But, we can all overcome. We can all go from surviving to thriving. Choose gratitude and choose your full effort. When we take control of our mind, it’s incredible what we’re all capable of.