To say that Amy Purdy's life changed course when she was 19 years old is an understatement. Until that point, the teen's days were carefree, spent painting, listening to music and snowboarding with friends. She was not particularly athletic, describing herself as more of an artist. Getting outdoors was more a way to socialize. But at 19, Purdy contracted meningitis, which left her fighting for her life and ultimately resulted in the loss of both her legs below the knee.
She could have been bitter. She could have wallowed in self-pity. Instead, Purdy started a nonprofit to help others with disabilities, began petitioning to get the sport she loved added to the Paralympics and then re-invented herself as an athlete so she could represent her country as a snowboarder at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games in 2014 in Russia.
Later this month, she'll represent the U.S. again in Pyeongchang, South Korea at the Paralympic Games.
Snowboarding opens the door to a new life
Purdy told Sports Illustrated that it was snowboarding that actually got her active again after she lost her legs. Doctors told her that she might never walk again, but Purdy wanted to snowboard. She wasn't thinking about competing or winning medals. She just wanted to snowboard so she could get back out there with her friends. Her first obstacle was finding a pair of prosthetics that would work for snowboarding. She needed feet that flexed more at the ankles than what was available. When she couldn't find them, she built her own.
"When it's your own body, you realize what you need," Purdy said in the interview with SI. "You can describe it every day to somebody and they won't get it unless they experience it themselves. So for me I would realize my ankles weren't flexing the way I needed to and I would take a piece of wood and put it under my heel and duct tape the wood there. I'd realize that gets me up over my toes a little. So it was a lot of feel and trial and error."
Before long, Purdy was back out there, snowboarding with her friends and helping others with similar disabilities take up the sport. In 2005, she helped to found the nonprofit Adaptive Action Sports to help people with disabilities get involved in skateboarding, snowboarding and other action sports. Through the organization, Purdy petitioned to get snowboarding into the Paralympic Games. When the sport finally made it in 2014, Purdy had already made up her mind that she would do everything she could to get there herself, not just as a supporter, but as an athlete.
"We put five years towards the effort and succeeded, then I put my athlete hat on and trained to make the first U.S. Paralympic snowboard team and get to the Games myself!" Purdy told NBC.
Purdy won a bronze medal at the Paralympic Games in 2014, then went straight from Sochi to L.A. to appear on "Dancing With the Stars," where she finished as runner-up. Now she has her sights set on bringing home even more hardware from Pyeongchang when the Paralympic Winter Games begin on March 9.