Paralympian Amy Purdy on Overcoming Obstacles & 'Dancing With the Stars'
Updated: Mar 7, 2018
Original Post: Yahoo
“If your life were a book and you were the author, how would you want your story to go?” Those were the powerful words of Paralympian Amy Purdy during her 2011 TedTalk. Purdy’s life didn’t go according to plan at all, and through relentless determination, she’s created her own unbelievable story.
At the age of 19, Purdy experienced a sudden onset of bacterial meningitis and was told she had only a two percent chance of survival. A surreal brush with death followed, invigorating a faith that has remained deep-rooted: “When I was in the hospital, it felt like there was this light sitting on my right shoulder, communicating to me somehow, that there are these massive challenges in life but also awesome beauty and experiences, and to just know that it will all make sense in the end,” Purdy explains. “I made the choice to stay (in this life), so when things get tough I go back to, ‘I’m not a victim because I chose to be here.’ If I wanted the easy way out I could have left when I had the opportunity. I don’t know what it is but there’s something else there.”
Not only did she choose to be here, she has opted to thrive despite having both legs amputated. Purdy has become one of the world’s top adaptive snowboarders earning a bronze medal during the Sochi Paralympics. She’s even been a finalist on Dancing With The Stars, partnered with Oprah during her national tour, is launching the Amy Purdy collection line of activewear, and wrote a NY Times bestseller On My Own Two Feet.
Although Purdy’s accomplishments, despite immense physical and mental adversity, are obvious, she says that her mindset is what gets her through. “I always go back to gratitude and if I’m not in a space of gratitude that day I remind myself to get back there because that’s where opportunities are created,” Purdy says. “ At first, they (the doctors) thought I would lose my hands. I was a massage therapist, a pianist; I needed my hands and couldn’t grasp the thought of losing them. Then they healed and my feet became worse. I think to myself, 'I’m lucky I only lost my kidney, spleen, hearing in the left ear and my legs.’” It’s an inspiring way of thinking that leaves you completely humbled.
Purdy’s determination to do everything and more, makes it easy forget about the challenges she has faced. When she partnered with Derek Hough on Dancing with the Stars, she and Hough tried to make their dances appear effortless—and like she didn’t have prosthetics. This despite the fact that she rotated four different pairs of feet for various moves and dances. “ I had to have my toes pointed properly; everything had to be done right,” Purdy says. It definitely paid off. “By week four the fans were saying, ‘I don’t even look at her legs anymore,’ so at the same time, people forgot about how hard it was for me.”
To those of us on the outside Amy has a seamless way of making her life’s pivots, tribulations and triumphs appear easy, but on the inside her victories have materialized from continual effort. Adaptive Action Sports was founded in 2005 by Amy to provide opportunities for others with disabilities to participate in action sports such as skateboarding and snowboarding. “It’s therapy for me and for others,” Purdy explains. She also believes that those extreme sports have many benefits beyond the experience. “ We recently came to the conclusion that we think we’re able to walk so well because with snowboarding you’re forced to connect your mind and thoughts to your body,” she said, revealing her epiphany.
Purdy understands the power of inspiration, and she wants to provide that for others facing the same challenges. “People would tell me everything would be OK. I thought, ‘well, how do you know?’ I couldn’t even visualize what life was going to be like until one day when someone brought me an article of a girl with two prosthetic legs, running. I wasn’t a runner but it enabled me to realize if she could do that, I could certainly snowboard,” she explained.
“Sometimes you just need to see that one person can do something to believe you can.”
Rather than shy away from the unknown, Amy plunges toward it as she has learned repeatedly that the reward far outweighs the fear. “I’ve been open to risk-taking – it’s huge because a lot of people get opportunities they don’t even recognize because they’re too scared to even look,” Purdy states. What’s clear is that Purdy understands what it takes to live life to the fullest. “I wake up every day and I get so excited and think, 'I’m healthy, I’m alive, I’m good. What can I do today?’“