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Back on Her Own Two Feet: A Paralympian Defies All Odds

By:  Meagan Priselac Mar 14, 2014
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Amy Purdy

Amy Purdy has defied many odds in her lifetime, including surviving less than a 2 percent chance to live. Today, she took on another, winning a bronze medal at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in snowboard cross.

Purdy grew up an active snowboarder, living what she considers a pretty normal life. At 19, that all changed when she was diagnosed with Bacterial Meningitis, an infection that was predicted to take her life. Purdy survived, but lost both legs below the knee. Two years later, she received a kidney transplant from her father. 

Now the 34-year-old double amputee has more bragging rights than most people with two legs. Already an accomplished athlete, actress, philanthropist and motivational speaker, this year Purdy has added member of the 2014 Coke "4-Pack" of athletes and Dancing with the Stars contestant to the list. Purdy is also a three-time World Cup champion in para-snowboarding and co-founder of Adaptive Action Sports, the first adaptive snowboard and skateboard specific nonprofit.

We spoke with Purdy about her inspiring life journey from fighting for her life to fighting for the podium: 

What went through your head when you were named a Coca-Cola '4-Pack' member, and what has your experience been like so far? 

I feel so honored to have been selected to the “Four Pack” and to be included with this amazing group of athletes. Evan Lysacek and Michelle Kwan are such great Olympic Legends, and Ted Ligety is top in the world in his sport. I am humbled to be joining them as part of the Coca-Cola family.

All four of us were together at the photo shoot, which was a really great experience. We hung out, got to know each other and were able to take group photos, which does not always happen. We see each other at other events and know we have a special connection.

I am so grateful to Coca-Cola for all the support. I did not expect to see myself as part of this huge campaign. Everyone is seeing the billboards and the in-store activity and sending and posting pictures on my social media. That has been fun to share with friends and family across the country.

Looking back at all your accomplishments, can you explain how becoming a double amputee at 19 has impacted your life?

I would not be where I am today without that life-changing experience. I feel like the luckiest person in the world. At 19, my goal was to have a job where I could snowboard and travel the world. I thought my plan had changed, but actually that is my life. I just had to do it very differently than I had planned. I have been able to do more than I ever imagined. Starting a charity and competing in the Paralympics were not things I thought about at that time, but those became a reality for me. I really hope that I can help and inspire others who may feel little hope or fearful. This road has not been easy, but it has been more wonderful than I ever expected.

After your surgery, you found a way to get back on your snowboard. What does it feel like to go through such a difficult experience and now have the chance to compete in the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games? 

At that time, I knew I was going to snowboard again. I did not know how or when, but I was determined. I had to first learn to walk, use my prosthetics, etc. I had to set little goals along the way. As I was going through the process, the goal was to snowboard again. I would have never imagined at the time that I would make U.S. Paralympic Team and represent my country. I have been so fortunate that the sport I love was accepted into the Games. A lot of things had to fall into place for this to happen, and it is an amazing feeling to see it all come together. It is overwhelming and I think it will fully hit me as I am in the start gate in Sochi.

Amy Purdy snowboarding

What are your expectations for the Games and your personal goals?

I am ready for Sochi and know I am prepared. My goal is to feel like I did everything I could to perform at my best. That is all I can ask for, since I compete against the clock that is what I will focus on.

As co-founder of Adaptive Action Sports (AAS), what advice do you have for anyone going through a similar experience with permanent physical disabilities?

I hope through AAS, the Paralympics and everything I do, I can give a little hope or inspiration to help someone overcome a fear to try something that they may not have thought possible. I would tell them, that whatever they try, it may not look like what it did before and you may need to be creative to accomplish the goal, but the opportunities are limitless. Through AAS, we run clinics and try to help people overcome the hurdle of trying something new or something they used to do again. The most rewarding part to me is when someone overcomes their fears and when they are amazed at what they just accomplished. It's believing in our dreams and facing fears head on that allows us to live our lives beyond limits.

After the Games you will enter another competition on Dancing with the Stars. Can you talk about this opportunity and what you're most excited and/or nervous about?

I am so thrilled and honored to be part of this amazing show. I am excited about sharing what people with physical disabilities can do. I hope that I can inspire people to try new things that they might think are impossible. Most of all, I wanted to make sure I could do it and have fun. I love to dance, I actually clog dance, but this is more complicated. I may not be able to point my toes, but who knows, I might be able to do something else. I am not too nervous, ask me on March 17 and it might be a different story.

You already wear so many hats as an actress, survivor, decorated athlete, etc. What would you like to add next?

Wow, great question, I have so many goals. Off the top of my head, maybe an author, a summer Paralympian, etc. Most of all I hope to be viewed as somebody who helps others accomplish their goals. I have had so much help along the way and I hope I can give back as much as I have been given.

To find out more about Purdy's accomplishments, goals and inspiring story visit her personal website.