LAS VEGAS (BVM) — It was unlikely that Amy Purdy, having grown up in the Las Vegas heat, would fall in love with snowboarding. But she did.
It’s just as improbable as losing both of her legs below the knees and undergoing a kidney transplant all before her 21st birthday. But she did that, too.
You might’ve seen Purdy race around the world on season 21 of “The Amazing Race” or become a runner-up on season 18 of “Dancing with the Stars,” but the traumatic path she took to that point is why Oprah Winfrey has called her a “hero.”
In 1999, at the age of 19, Purdy’s life changed forever.
After a day of flu-like symptoms, Purdy was rushed to the hospital in a state of septic shock and diagnosed with bacterial meningitis – a deadly blood infection – and given a less-than-two-percent chance of survival. After two-and-a-half months in the hospital and a near-death experience, the infection claimed both of Purdy’s legs below the knees.
Even then, the adversity hadn’t run its course just yet.
A year later, Purdy lost all kidney function and underwent a kidney transplant. Her father was the donor. With, seemingly, all her health setbacks in the rearview, Purdy was ready to get back to her first love: snowboarding.
Since beginning the sport as a 15-year-old at Cimarron-Memorial High School, Purdy’s second go-round with snowboarding would certainly be different. She had to customize a snowboard that would be compatible with her prosthetic legs.
While the method had changed, Purdy’s talent did not. Purdy went on to win a bronze medal at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Russia and a silver and bronze in 2018 in South Korea. The three-time medalist became a model, actress, author and finalist on ABC’s hit show “DWTS” all on her prosthetic legs with the same competitive spirit that propelled her to Paralympian heights.
After spending time traveling to tell her story, Purdy decided to not only be a beacon of hope for those in similar situations, but offer tangible assistance.
Purdy – along with her husband, Daniel Gale – co-founded Adaptive Action Sports (AAS), providing action sports programs for disabled youth, young adults and veterans. The nonprofit’s mission is to help create opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities to get involved in skateboarding and snowboarding, the first of its kind to focus on bringing these types of sports to the disabled community.
Purdy’s battle to thrive in action sports despite her disability inspired her and Gale – a sports organizer for ESPN and the Summer X Games – to create AAS. The foundation provides skate- and snowboard skill development and training by certified instructors to help break down attitudinal barriers that promote exclusion.
AAS has partnered with ESPN and runs “adaptive” action sport competitions at the summer and winter ESPN X Games. These events were instrumental in getting adaptive snowboarding added to the Paralympic Games.
The only double-leg amputee to compete at the elite world-class level, Purdy’s journey, achievements and impact hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Southern Nevada Sports Sports Hall of Fame. Joining former MLB player Ryan Ludwick and former NFL running back Demarco Murray, among others, Purdy will be inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame on June 11, 2021.
Purdy’s non-profit organization – which is dedicated to introducing people with physical challenges to action sports – is the cherry on top of a one-of-a-kind journey.