After Pyeongchang glory, Amy Purdy hopes to continue to push Adaptive Action Sports into future (includes podcast)
Returning to Summit County for the first time since she won two Paralympic medals in South Korea last month, as flurries fell in Frisco on Friday afternoon Amy Purdy was — perhaps surprisingly — stoked to get back on the hill.
“I mean,” Purdy said, “I was actually excited to come back to snowboard, believe it or not.”
It’s been a whirlwind past month for the Silverthorne resident, Purdy, since she won a silver medal in boardercross (snowboard cross) and a bronze medal in banked slalom at the 2018 Pyeongchang Paralympic Games.
At this year’s Paralympics, the United States fielded 13 snowboarders for a much-expanded slate of para-snowboard divisions compared to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where Purdy won a boardercross bronze medal.
LISTEN: U.S. Paralympians, Summit County locals Amy Purdy, Arlene Cohen chat Paralympic experience, scenes in South Korea, future of Adaptive Action Sports
Of those 13 Team USA snowboarders, six are athletes with Summit County ties to Adaptive Action Sports, the organization Purdy co-founded in 2005 to help create opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities to get involved in snowboarding and other action sports.
And along with Purdy’s silver and bronze medals, her Adaptive Action Sports teammates found success in South Korea as well. It was highlighted by Frisco resident Mike Minor, who won bronze in boardercross and gold in banked slalom while another man who spends much time training and competing in Summit County, Evan Strong, added a silver medal in the banked slalom for Adaptive Action Sports’ collection.
Without question, last month in South Korea was a roaring success for Purdy’s program. But the 38-year-old Las Vegan — who is also famous for her time on the show “Dancing With the Stars” — feels there is still room for Adaptive Action Sports to grow in the future.
In particular, Purdy and her fellow Pyeongchang Paralympian and Summit County snowboarder Arlene Cohen, of Breckenridge, are eyeing more female para-snowboarders.
“In ways, it’s grown tremendously,” Purdy said of adaptive action sports, namely snowboarding, “but in ways there is still a lot of growth that needs to happen — specifically on the women’s side.
“There are not that many female snowboarders in the competitive space for adaptive snowboarding,” the double-leg amputee Purdy continued. “So with Adaptive Action Sports, that’s something we really want to work on is to create more women’s events and camps and try to just do more outreach so we can get more females involved in the sport in general.”
Looking ahead to next winter and spring’s ski and snowboard season, Purdy, the single-leg amputee Cohen and Adaptive Action Sports have plans to increase their outreach and create more programs.
Their ultimate goal? To try to make sure any potential adaptive athletes out there are aware of what their program provides, even if the prospective athletes have no interest in Paralympic glory. But if they do, all the better, as Purdy and Adaptive Action Sports would like to increase the pool of potential athletes.
“We really want to open up the doors more for recreational snowboarding,” Purdy said. “Anybody who has a disability who wants to come out, learn to ride, learn from us, learn from athletes doing it themselves.
“We want to do an event next spring,” Purdy continued, “that will pull as much of the community together who want to learn, who want to progress and hopefully that will end with one of the (International Ski and Snowboard Federation) world cups, or a Nor Am (event), so people can actually go on to compete. Kind of create — we have the pipeline — but to create an event where someone can actually experience that pipeline within a week, which would be great.”
Snowboarding isn’t where Adaptive Action Sports’ expansion goals end. In Summit County, Purdy knows the summer yin to snowboarding’s winter yang is mountain biking. She joked that if the Paralympics permitted mountain bike races as an official sport, this year’s U.S. para-snowboard team could hop on their bikes and suit up at the summer games.
All kidding aside, Purdy is well aware that Summit County, its ski resorts and community have played a crucial role in the expansion of para-snowboarding to this point. To put the progress in perspective, Purdy thinks back to when she lost her legs nearly two decades ago due to Neisseria meningitidis.
Back then, Purdy searched the internet — before Google, even, she supposes — to find someone, anyone else out there who, like her, wanted to learn how to snowboard despite being an amputee.
“I didn’t know any other snowboarder who had prosthetic legs,” Purdy said. “… I was typing in, ‘amputee snowboarder, ‘prosthetic leg snowboarder,’” she added, “just seeing if there are articles of anybody else who was out there, and I didn’t find anything.”
“Looking back and saying, ‘Gosh, maybe I knew of five people (who were para-snowboarders back then), and now sitting back and watching all the world compete at the Paralympic Games and para-snowboarding,” she later added, “it’s been an incredible journey, and something that we are very proud of and we just want to continue to help it grow.”
Though she loves the sport, Purdy knows there is a ceiling to para-snowboarding. She realizes it can be quite niche, and not everyone who has a disability can do it.
But with a bigger focus on expanded outdoor recreation, she figures she can help out that many more people.
“It’s been really cool being part of the community and being part of helping the sport to grow, in general,” Purdy said. “And that’s just our vision for the future as well is to get more people involved in paralympic snowboarding, paralympic sport, be able to create more opportunities, and here specifically … for paralympic athletes.”
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