By Brady Rhoades
If you were to read Amy Purdy’s medical history, you’d be introduced to a journey that, for many, could feel incredibly daunting.
If you were to check out her accomplishments as a snowboarding champion, a renowned motivational speaker, a dancer, an actress, a model, a podcaster, a New York Times bestselling author and a philanthropist, you’d be introduced to her toughness and will.
And if you watched her shredding the slopes on her way to medaling in the Paralympics or ball-rooming her way into America’s hearts on “Dancing with the Stars,” you’d start to see the big picture.
Purdy’s mantra? “Live beyond limits.”
“Live beyond limits became my mantra very organically. I personally never liked being told what I could or couldn’t do,” said Purdy, 41. “I always wanted to figure out what the possibilities were. Snowboarding, for example, felt impossible at first, and I could have just walked away but I got creative, made my own feet and figured out a way to not just do it again but to excel at it. I’m so grateful that I never gave up.”
The Fight of Her Life
Born in Las Vegas in 1979, Purdy was just 19 years old when she contracted bacterial meningitis. She was given a two percent chance to survive. She lost both of her legs below the knees, lost both of her kidneys and her spleen (she later received a kidney transplant from her father).
Purdy met the challenge head-on, weathering unthinkable surgeries and rehab, teaming with medical experts, designing her own prosthetic feet and legs (through trial and error, sometimes with chunks of wood) and never losing sight of her goals.
“There’s always going to be something preventing you from your goal, whether it’s a loss of legs or anything else, but you’ll never be happy if you surrender to circumstances,” she said.
Purdy’s immediate goal after her initial diagnosis was to snowboard again. After getting prosthetic legs, she achieved that. It turned out to be the start of big things.
Purdy eventually won a bronze medal in snowboarding at the 2014 Paralympics and a silver in 2018. She formed a non-profit organization — Adaptive Action Sports — along with her husband, Daniel Gale, who is also a competitive snowboarder, to get snowboarding included in the Paralympics. Adaptive Action Sports, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, targets those with physical disabilities who want to get involved in action sports (snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing). Their organization, founded in 2005, also trains athletes with physical disabilities to qualify for the U. S. Snowboard Team. Purdy believes part of her mission is helping others with health challenges.
“It was an evolution from losing my legs, relearning to snowboard, helping others learn to snowboard and finally getting it into the Games.”
Purdy began snowboarding seven months after she received her prosthetic legs. About a year after her legs were amputated, she finished third in a snowboarding competition at Mammoth Mountain.
On Her Own Two Feet
In 2003, Purdy was recruited by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) as a spokesperson. At the time, she didn’t live far from the CAF headquarters, as she and Daniel had moved back to San Diego to pursue surfing.
In San Diego, she continued her pre-amputee profession as a massage therapist. She also started working for Freedom Innovations, a prosthetic feet manufacturer, as its Amputee Advocate.
On top of all that, Purdy has numerous television and film credits. In 2012, Purdy and her now husband Daniel Gale participated on the 21st season of The Amazing Race.
After nearly winning the first leg of the race, they were the second team eliminated and finished in 10th place out of 11 teams.
In 2014, Purdy was a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.” Paired with five-time champion Derek Hough, Purdy was the first double amputee contestant to ever appear on the show. Hough was, at the time, fresh from winning his fifth Mirrorball trophy and did not plan on coming back to the show.
However, he changed his mind when Purdy joined the show as a contestant. Purdy wowed judges from the get-go, and kept improving. She never received a score lower than 8. She received her first perfect score (40 out of 40) for her eighth dance, the Argentine tango, after having an intense back injury the week prior. She eventually made it the finale, where she finished as a runner-up to Olympic gold medalist Meryl Davis.
In 2015, Purdy was featured in a Super Bowl advertisement for the Toyota Camry. The ad showed Purdy snowboarding, dancing and adjusting her prosthetic legs to a voiceover of Muhammad Ali’s “How Great I Am” speech.
Purdy has penned a memoir titled, On My Own Two Feet: From Losing My Legs to Learning the Dance of Life (HarperCollins), created a podcast (“Bouncing Forward”) and carved out a lucrative and inspirational career as a motivational speaker.
Among her accolades, along with two Paralympic medals, are being named one of ESPNW’s Impact 25 and one of Oprah’s SuperSoul 100 visionaries and influential leaders.
Purdy says that healing is never a linear process; it’s full of ups, downs, twists, turns, setbacks, victories.
And it’s lifelong.
After experiencing medical setbacks — including an injury to her popliteal artery — in 2019, Purdy has undergone 10 more surgeries, including amputation revisions on her left leg.
“Phase one of my journey was all the surgeries and trying to find stability with the injury and phase two is getting legs that I can live comfortably in,” she said of her latest plight. “Once they are comfortable, then I’ll be able to snowboard again.”
Meantime, she continues to move forward on myriad other projects. She continues, in other words, to live beyond limits.
“I’m currently excited to be planning the second season of my podcast “Bouncing Forward,” and I’m always looking for new ways to help others live their possibilities,” she said.
“I have a handful of projects I’m working on in TV that I can’t talk about yet and some that are online. With COVID, I went from doing many live speeches to doing virtual speeches, which has been fantastic, although I want to go to even a deeper and more immersive experience with my community.
I’ve been so grateful to connect with so many amazing people in real life and on social media that I’m really inspired to create ways to connect even deeper.
That’s what life is about: living, learning and growing, and helping others do the same.”
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