Athlete, activist, adventurer: Amy Purdy
Ryan Summerlin December 3, 2012
Talking with Amy Purdy is like meeting a personal hero you didn’t even know you had yet. Not only is she in training to become a Paralympic athlete in snowboarding, but she also juggles work at her nonprofit organization Adaptive Action Sports, a burgeoning public speaking career and participating in the ongoing Hartford Ski Spectacular at the Beaver Run Center this week. She also recently participated in the TV show “The Amazing Race.”
“Right now, for the first time ever, I’ve been able to make snowboarding and training a priority,” Purdy said.
Purdy is currently training with a group of four other elite athletes to qualify for the U.S. Snowboard Team, after which her next step will be to qualify for the 2014 Paralympics in Russia. These games will mark the first in which snowboarding is an event.
“It’s so exciting to see we finally have snowboarding in the Paralympics,” Purdy said, explaining that both national and international have been working for years to get the sport added to the Paralympic venue.
Now, Purdy trains almost every day, both in the gym and on the slopes at Copper Mountain, preparing for the upcoming qualifiers, which begin at the end of January.
Purdy’s love affair with snowboarding started at the age of 15, when she would travel from her hometown Las Vegas, with friends and family to go snowboarding at Lake Tahoe.
“I just fell in love with it,” Purdy said. “I just really knew that it would be part of my life forever.”
Struck suddenly by a rare and deadly disease at age 19, Purdy is a double amputee with two prosthetic legs that she straps to a snowboard every day. Though now she is an elite athlete in the sport, getting there was a difficult journey.
“It totally threw me through a loop, because I identified myself with being an athletic snowboarder,” Purdy said. “I believed in my heart that I could do it again, but I certainly had a lot going against me. I just made it a mission to figure it out.”
She did her research, meeting with skiers who skied with prosthetic limbs. Hearing their stories, she decided that the same thing could be done with snowboarding. Through trial and error, Purdy found a way to make it work, although she says it’s still a work in progress.
“Even now when I snowboard, I’m constantly trying to feel what could be better, and what I can do to make it better,” Purdy said. “So I just get creative and try to figure it out. … Having two prosthetic legs, I’m limited in certain ways, but there are other things that I know I can figure out, so I’m always on a mission trying to figure it out.”
Having figured out how to continue snowboarding, Purdy wasn’t content at keeping it to herself. In 2005 she and her boyfriend, Daniel Gale, started Adaptive Action Sports, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping youth and young adults with physical disabilities to compete in active sports.
Although Gale has currently taken over much of the organization’s work while Purdy is training, she still finds time in the afternoons to help out where she can.
“[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 said. “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.”
An important event has been the Hartford Ski Spectacular, an event sponsored by Disabled Sports USA to allow people with disabilities to learn how to perform winter sports, as well as providing training for elite disabled athletes. The event has been held at the Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge for more than 20 years, and is happening this week. When Purdy first attended the event in 2001, she was one of the only snowboarders. Now, she estimates that of the 800 attendees, more are snowboarding than skiing.
This year, Purdy is one of the coaches of a racing camp, and plans to come back next year as a snowboarding instructor.
“So many people [are] learning from each other,” Purdy said of the event. “It’s just such an awesome event and experience.”
In addition to teaching snowboarding to others with physical disabilities, Purdy has recently and unexpectedly launched a career as a motivational speaker. In May 2011 she gave a speech at a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) event which, when posted on the TED website, quickly became one of the top 20 videos watched. Suddenly she was receiving requests from all over the country to come speak at national conferences and events.
“I’ve been really lucky with that,” Purdy said.
In the year since then, she’s given motivational speeches all over the country, including at a Colorado Parks and Recreation Association conference in Keystone in October. Now that she’s training, she’s limiting herself to one speech per month, and each speech is different.
“I do not feel comfortable giving the same speech over and over,” Purdy said. “I really try to customize my speeches to who I’m speaking to, and it challenges me too to remember different stories and come up with new messages, or just remember what I’ve learned through this whole journey.”
Purdy’s success in the speaking world recently led to a new adventure – as a contestant on the TV show “The Amazing Race.”
Producers of the show saw Purdy’s TED speech, and decided that she would be an excellent candidate for their show. “The Amazing Race” is a reality show that pits teams of two against each other to complete challenges in a race around the world. Purdy and Gale participated on the 21st season in May.
“It was just an awesome once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Purdy said.
Purdy and Gale completed challenges in Shanghai, China, and Indonesia. One of the biggest challenges was the language barrier, and finding locals who spoke enough English to help out. They were eliminated when they had to change taxi cabs three times in an attempt to get to a specific location, and came in last.
“The whole experience, the excitement of the entire thing was worth it,” said Purdy. “Just the idea of doing such a spontaneous adventure, … just to get on the show you feel like a winner already.”
Purdy and Gale recently moved to Summit County, mainly to be close to the snowboarding action. In addition to the convenience, Purdy says she’s enjoying being in the Colorado mountains.
“I’m incredibly grateful for the support that I have right now, to be able to live up here in Summit County, train full-time, [and] also help other people do the same,” she said. “That just is really rewarding for me.”
When she’s not training for the Paralympics, working at her nonprofit organization, writing a new motivational speech or any of the other myriad activities that keep her busy, Purdy finds time to enjoy hobbies such as cooking, painting and photography.
“I love photography. I take a lot of pictures, especially up here. It’s so beautiful,” she said.
Of Summit County itself, Purdy didn’t hesitate when she said, “I love it. I feel like it’s an ideal place.”
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