Since 2002, Amy Purdy has wowed the sports world with her prowess on the slopes, sweeping up titles and medals in adaptive snowboarding, including three back-to-back World Cup gold medals and, most recently, a bronze medal in the 2014 Paralympic games in Sochi. This spring, she further captured the nation’s attention and heart as she danced her way into second place on the TV show “Dancing with the Stars.” On Tuesday, July 8, Purdy will bring her dancing know-how and infectious positive attitude to the Dillon Amphitheater as the host of this week’s free Sunset Dancing event to benefit local nonprofits.
At age 19, Purdy’s life changed forever when she contracted an extremely rare form of bacterial meningitis that put her in the hospital with a less than 2 percent chance of survival. She beat those odds, but in the process lost her kidneys, spleen, the hearing in her left ear and both of her legs below the knee.
Instead of dwelling on her losses, Purdy focused her energy on pushing the boundaries of her limits. Through research and hard physical work, she found her way back onto a snowboard, working to discover just the right prosthetics that could return her to the sport she loved before her illness.
She succeeded, and then some.
In addition to becoming a sports star, Purdy has juggled a motivational speaking career, modeling and acting work and starting her own nonprofit organization.
Though she travels often for a variety of projects, Purdy returns to Summit County. She does training in the winter and summer, and works with her nonprofit Adaptive Action Sports, co-founded in 2005 with Daniel Gale and based at Copper Mountain.
Adaptive Action Sports is the manifestation of Purdy’s will to reach out to others in the adaptive athletic community. The organization helps youth, young adults and veterans with disabilities learn to compete in sports such as snowboarding, skateboarding, wakeboarding and motocross.
“[When] I realized I could snowboard again, and I could snowboard well, [I realized] there are a lot of other people out there who want to learn,” Purdy told the Summit Daily in a 2012 interview. “That’s why we put this organization together — to just pay it forward and help the community grow and help it develop. It’s exciting.”
There’s also another reason Purdy continues to return to the mountains.
“This is where I usually come to decompress,” she said. Even this year, when she can only stay 10 days or so before heading out for a month or more at a time, she does what she can to enjoy life in the High Country. This includes road biking, mountain biking and workouts at Crossfit Low Oxygen in Frisco. Now she gets recognized more often, she said, because of being on “Dancing with the Stars,” but she’s always felt a local connection, and that’s why she’s looking forward to being at the Dillon Amphitheater on Tuesday.
For the love of dance
“Nope, not at all,” was Purdy’s candid answer to whether she’d done much dancing before participating in “Dancing with the Stars.”
“I’ve always been really interested (in dancing) but never had the opportunity, really, to pursue,” she said, “and then when I got the phone call from ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ right off the bat I said, ‘Oh my gosh I’d love to do this, but it has to be after the Paralympic games.’”
It was, but only by a few days.
“I was a little conflicted on if it was the right thing to do, but decided to just jump in and do whatever I had to do to make both happen,” she said.
She was paired with dancer and choreographer Derek Hough and the two tangoed, salsa’d and cha-cha’d through the season to finish just below Olympic figure skater Meryl Davis.
Dancing for a cause
After reading an article about Purdy being on the show, local swing dance instructor Thekla Schultz sent her an email, asking if she would be interested in participating in a summer dancing series to benefit local nonprofit organizations. She was thrilled to receive a reply that Purdy would love to take part.
“It’s so exciting, I couldn’t believe it,” Schultz said.
The series, called Sunset Dancing, takes place every Tuesday at the Dillon Amphitheater and features a different style of dance taught by a different instructor each week. The dance lesson is free, with donations and concession sales going to a different local nonprofit every week. Purdy’s hosting session coincides to benefit the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District (FDRD).
“It’s wonderful. As a small grassroots community operation that does have a strong local focus, having someone that’s as well known and respected and admired by a lot of people taking the time to do a fun community event is a great opportunity on many levels,” said FDRD executive director Jessica Evett. “We are very happy that Amy decided to put us on her dance card.”
Purdy said she was glad to take up the opportunity.
“What a perfect way to just stay involved in the community.”
The evening will include dancing, a talk with Purdy, a door prize drawing for a season 2014-15 Arapahoe Basin Ski Area season pass and live music.
“I think that’s perfect,” said Purdy, of using dancing as a benefit event for nonprofits, “because it just makes sense for people to be able to do something that’s maybe challenging and exciting, but at the same time give back, versus just making a donation. To actually be able to get out and learn something new and do it within the community, I think that’s really important.”
Don’t be afraid to push your limits
Purdy’s schedule isn’t going to slow down any time soon. By the end of the week she’ll be heading to Los Angeles for some television-related jobs, which is around the time that the “Body Issue” of ESPN The Magazine will hit the stands, with Purdy among its featured athletes. She’s also working as much as possible on writing her book, due to come out around the holiday season.
“I just keep the momentum going,” she said. And for now, that means dancing in Dillon.
“All dancing is just about having fun and learning something new,” she said. People shouldn’t be nervous because “you have to start somewhere, and believe me, when I started with Derek, even though I thought I had moves, he shut those moves down pretty quickly,” she joked.
She encourages people to come out and join her.
“If I can go from really never dancing before and working with these bionic legs, then I’m sure everybody else should have a pretty easy time getting into it. But all it is is about having fun and music is so motivating — to challenge yourself, to try something new, just no expectations. It’s all about enjoying yourself and being a part of the community,” she said. “You can’t let the fear of trying, of not knowing something, stop you from trying to figure it out. Man, I jumped in feet fist and did it on live TV!
“It’s just about challenging yourself and having fun with it.”