Credit: Joe Kusumoto

If anyone knows how important adaptive sports equipment is for an athlete with a disability, it’s Mike Schultz, a two-time medal-winning snowboarder at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang last March.

“It’s our mechanical connection to the equipment that we’re skiing on,” Schultz — who lost his left leg after a 2008 crash in a pro-snowmobile race — tells PEOPLE. “We rely heavily on adaptive equipment to basically take the place of our injured or missing components.”

So it’s hardly surprising that Schultz, 37, jumped at the chance to surprise nine young athletes with disabilities with new adaptive gear donated by The Hartford on Dec. 6 at the Hartford Ski Spectacular at Colorado’s Breckenridge Ski Resort.

“I was super-duper surprised,” gushed Katlyn Maddry, a 17-year-old competitive snowboarder whose right leg was amputated when she was 8.

Credit: Joe Kusumoto

Maddry traveled to the event from her home in Wasilla, Alaska, thinking she was going to be recognized with a group of other athletes for her hard work. Schultz suddenly appeared with a custom-made foot built specifically for her.

Minutes later, Maddry — and her eight other fellow competitors — hit the slopes to test out their new gear. “It’s amazing,” says Maddry, who also received a racing snowboard and is determined to compete in the 2022 Paralympics in Beijing. “It’s a night and day difference compared to what I’ve been used to. I can finally hit jumps with speed, which I never could before.”

More than 800 athletes attended the event, sponsored by Disabled Sports USA, one of the nation’s largest winter sports festivals for people with disabilities, including dozens of wounded military veterans from the U.S. and Great Britain.

“Being an athlete and winning medals is pretty awesome,” says Schultz, who began designing and manufacturing prosthetic limbs (including Maddry’s new foot) after losing his leg. “But actually helping a bunch of other athletes achieve their goals, is a pretty awesome feeling. It was an incredibly powerful moment when we all walked in with all this great gear and handed it out to these recipients. I definitely had a knot in my throat and was fighting off the tears.”