Summit couple pioneers in adaptive snowboarding
September 22, 2012
Amy Purdy and Daniel Gale moved to Summit County earlier this year from Crested Butte, before even having a place of residence, the duo found out that they had made the cast of the newest season of “The Amazing Race,” which premieres Sept. 30. But their story, close to the heart of the snowboarding community, goes far beyond a reality show appearance.Despite having the opportunity of a life time, as Purdy calls it, the couple both on screen and off, are pretty amazing. In 2005, Gale and Purdy started a nonprofit organization called Adaptive Action Sports, which focuses on training disabled athletes on snowboarding, which had not been widely seen before.”We were really the ones fueling this movement,” Gale said. “Everyone kept recommending that monoskiing was the way to go and that they had never seen a disabled person on a snowboard.”
The story of Adaptive Action Sports began back in 1999, while Purdy was living in Las Vegas working as a massage therapist for a world class resort.”I felt sick one day and went home from work early and within 24 hours I was in the hospital on life support and had less than 2 percent chance of living,” Purdy remembers. “It ended up being bacterial meningitis. Overnight my life changed forever – I lost both my legs due to the septic shock. I really had to start my life over again.”Purdy first stepped foot on a snowboard when she was 14-years old, as a 19-year-old double amputee, she didn’t ever let her passion for the sport fade.”I never gave up on snowboarding,” she said. “On all of my medical notes doctors would say ‘she’s asking if she can snowboard, we’ll have to revisit that.’ … All of my doctors told me that I would never be able to do it again, but I didn’t care, I just knew that I would. I was going to find a way to do it again no matter what.”After six months, several surgeries and a new pair of legs, Purdy was on a snowboard again.”I was still very sick, but it was more just to get up and get a feel for it,” she said. “It felt really foreign because I had no motion in my ankles. If your ankles don’t move the rest doesn’t move – my first prosthetics made me feel really stiff, like a stickman being stuck on the board. It was really an awkward, uncomfortable and slightly painful feeling.”To snowboard, Purdy knew that she would need prosthetic feet that had a wide range of motion so she worked with a professional prosthetic technician to “frankenstein” something that could work, and in 2001 she found something that did.”My prosthetist and I decided that we could break a pair of feet that I had, I knew I needed more ankle motion and be able to get on my toes better,” Purdy said. “We took an ankle from one company and turned it backwards to give me the ankle motion I needed and added a bunch of wood and duck tape to make a pair of feet I can snowboard in – I still snowboard in those feet today, so far there’s not one foot that beats it, which is crazy.”
Throughout her struggles, a theme that emerged to her was that adaptive snowboarding was a very new thing.”At the time I was searching for information, everyone said the same thing. They had never seen a double-amputee snowboarder and I should get into monoskiing,” Purdy said. “I remember thinking that it just hasn’t been done yet or it’s not out there enough so people think it’s not possible. I remember thinking ‘even if I have to go to NASA and have them build me a pair of legs that I can snowboard in, I’m going to figure out a way to do this.'”It was Purdy’s story and her motivation to get back into snowboarding that caused Gale in 2005 to start a nonprofit organization to spread knowledge, provide support, training and innovation for disabled snowboarders like Purdy.”Since we founded the organization in 2005, we’ve seen so much innovation in the adaptive snowboarding community,” Gale said. “At the time there was only a handful of people. We knew the initial idea was to create a message board where we could at least share information and then we realized there was more of a need for a place for the adaptive community to come together, share information and, above all, learn how to snowboard with disabilities.”Adaptive Action Sports is a chapter of Disabled Sports USA and is teaming with Woodward at Copper Mountain, Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center and the International Snowboard Training Center in Silverthorne to train adaptive athletes for the Nationals Team and the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.”We are niche because we focus on the adaptive training of snowboarders of all ages,” Gale said. “We don’t do any alpine sports, but we love to train disabled athletes.”Adaptive Active Sports has four tiers to its program: The “never evers” beginners, intermediate, the development team and elite level.”We also serve as a place for disabled athletes to share information and get tips on how to adapt to their sports,” Gale said.Besides finding a place to call home, the couple is tasked with training their local athletes for the Nationals Team.”This upcoming season, our elite level has to make the Nationals Team – they have to compete this winter for a spot on the Paralympic Team. Our goal is to train all of the athletes that make it. There’s competition, they’re going to have to work hard,” Gale said.