Written by Kirstyn Brown, Editor-in-Chief | Photography by Brian Reilly of West Studio
Amy Purdy is the type of woman you just want to be friends with. The kind you would text for a lunch date or tag along with to spin class. She’s got the girl-next-door thing down pat, looking effortlessly trendy yet casual in a pair of skinny jeans and a sleeveless graphic tee, her blonde hair twisting into gentle waves in the summer heat. She’s confident, but entirely laid back—so much so that you almost forget she’s reached celebrity status in the last few years, having captured the attention of literally millions of Americans on Dancing with the Stars. You almost forget she’s a world class snowboarder, with an Olympic bronze medal from the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. And you almost forget she has two prosthetic legs from the knees down, on which she moves and walks around as if she were born with them.
But she wasn’t born with them. Amy lived 19 full and active years with two strong legs supporting her as she danced in clubs with friends, learned to snowboard, worked her job as a massage therapist, and dreamed of adventure and travelling the world. But in 1999, when she contracted bacterial meningitis and went into septic shock, it all came crashing down. Finally returning home from the hospital more than two months later after losing her legs, kidneys and spleen, she went into a deep depression, unable to bare the thought—and the pain—of wearing her prosthetics, or living a life other than the one she had dream about.
And so she stayed in bed and tried to escape, letting her mind take her to a better place: The ski slopes where she raced down fresh powder on her snowboard with the wind in her face; the strength of her body moving her down the mountain with ease. Her desire to get back on her snowboard became so strong, she knew she had to find a way to make it a reality. So she pulled herself out of the darkness, strapped on her new legs, and got to work.
Just seven months after facing certain death in the hospital, she was back on her snowboard, learning to adapt to her new body and life. Since then, and after receiving a donated kidney from her father a week before her 21st birthday, Amy has achieved everything she had dreamed of before losing her legs, and more. In 2005, she co-founded Adaptive Action Sports, a non-profit organization that introduces young people with disabilities to skateboarding and snowboarding. The organization, together with the ESPN X Games, played a fundamental role in getting snowboarding added to the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, at which Amy won the bronze medal and became the only double amputee to compete on the word stage (she still is).
That same year, she became a household name when she competed on ABC’s reality show Dancing with the Stars, smashing misconceptions surrounding people with disabilities, with difficult dances like the Quick Step and Argentine Tango.
From there she went on to publish her first book, New York Times bestseller, On My Own Two Feet, and share the stage with Oprah Winfrey on her motivational speaking tour across America. Last month, she was named one of Oprah’s Super Soul 100: A group of inspirational leaders who are “using their voices and talents to elevate humanity.”
In a month or two, Amy will begin the 16-month training process for the next winter Paralympics in 2018 (“You can’t halfass it and expect to be an Olympian.”), but in this moment, the 36-year-old’s sole focus is on the Rio Paralympics, where she’ll be dancing a four-minute solo routine in the opening ceremonies on September 7. “If all goes well, it could be incredibly powerful,” she says. “It just goes to show what you can do on prosthetic legs.” For Amy, the possibilities are endless, and she’s not letting anything stand in her way.
7 Ridiculously Inspiring Quotes from Amy Purdy
Visualization: During my darkest days when I was so sick, and had no idea what my life would be like, I feel like that’s when I visualized the most because I would basically daydream about a life other than the one I was living. Then I asked myself, “What is it that I want to do with my life? What do I want for myself?” I wanted to travel, and snowboard, and help other people, and be strong and be fit. I kept those visions in my mind and that’s what I went after.
Living life to the fullest: Every day that I wake up healthy and feel good, I want to do something with my day. I don’t want to waste it.
The word “disabled”: It’s hard for me to even consider myself disabled at all. Not that it’s been easy, but the human spirit and body has an amazing way of adapting. I think the more that message is out there, then the more accepted “disabilities” will be. It’s not all sad. It’s not all loss. I don’t even like to say, “I lost my legs,” instead I like to say, “I have prosthetics.” I choose to focus on what I’ve gained rather than what I’ve lost.
Body image: I was very self-conscious at first. But life is all about perspective. I could have easily had low self-esteem, but why would I do that to myself? Now I look at it like each and every one of these scars saved my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t gone through everything I did to survive.
Making shit happen: I always say, “If it doesn’t exist, create it”. You can sit back and wait for the world to present opportunities or you can create them yourself.
Performing in Rio: Instead of going in thinking how big it is, I’m thinking about my purpose and being in the moment. In the end, it’s not about what everyone else thinks—it’s about the experience, and what you take from it.
Chasing her dreams: Everyone has a disability, something that is stopping them from achieving their goals or following their dreams. It’s just that some of them are more visible. Think of people with two good legs that are healthy and capable who don’t use their bodies to chase their dreams. People who have whole bodies are often more disabled than those of us who are missing a limb. You’re stopping yourself from doing things you want to do.
To read the full article, pick up the Sept/Oct 2016 issue of STRONG Fitness Magazine.