Paralympic Amy Purdy: 'Live through your limits'
Friday, September 30, 2016
Posted by: Rufino Cabang
Adaptive Action Sports co-founder Amy Purdy delivered the NEW Summit closing keynote address, Sept. 30, 2016 in Orlando.
"All I ever wanted
was to be free," Paralympic medalist and Adaptive Action co-founder Amy
Purdy told more than 1,100 NEW members at the NEW Leadership Summit, Sept. 30, 2016 at Omni at ChampionsGate in Orlando.
Purdy, whose successes
include roles as an author, model and actor, lost both of her legs below the
knee at the age of 19, the result of complications from meningococcal
meningitis. Now, the double amputee is one of the highest-ranked adaptive
snowboarders in the world and 2014 Paralympic bronze medalist.
After a childhood in Las Vegas where she dreamed of adulthood and
independence, Purdy became a massage therapist. Finally, she felt
free, confident and in control of her life.
Then illness set in. Stricken
with flu-like symptoms and overcome with the urge to "wake up," Purdy
realized that she'd lost feeling in her feet. The eventual amputation and
introduction of prosthetic legs into her life forced Purdy to "let go of
the old Amy and learn to embrace the new Amy."
The change prompted her
to see her opportunities over her limitations. With different prosthetics, Purdy can
change her height as well as her shoe size, which she considers a convenience
for a self-declared footwear fanatic.
"Even in my darkest
days, there's always some sort of silver lining," Purdy said.
But it was a question
she asked herself that prompted bigger dreams, and bolder possibilities: "If
my life were a book and I was the author, how would I want my story to
Purdy refused to let
life – or its limitations – get the best of her. Four months after her surgery, she was
back on a snowboard, a sport she had enjoyed before the amputation.
"I saw myself
walking gracefully," she said.
She also began working
on creative projects, including a modeling project with photographer and Mötley
Crüe co-founder Nikki Sixx.
While the shoot called
for her to project aggression and edginess, she found herself embracing her
femininity. Her authentic approach added an unexpected dimension
of artfulness to the finished product.
"Why put yourself in a box and not be yourself?" Purdy asked.
In 2005, Purdy and then-boyfriend
(now husband) Daniel Gale, who she met as a fellow contestant on TV's "The
Amazing Race," formed Adaptive Action Sports. The non-profit organization creates
action sport camps and programs for youth, young adults and veterans with
permanent physical disabilities, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic
Purdy also successfully
lobbied to make snowboarding a part of the Paralympic Games – then vowed to
make the Paralympic snowboarding team herself.
Becoming the first Paralympic Bronze medalist in snowboarding, the honor helped
her recognize two things: "What I'm capable of, and being a part of a
community that never, ever 'gave up.'
"Little did I know
my biggest loss would become my biggest asset," she added.
A book offer from Harper
Collins – with a six-week deadline – called upon her power of intention. Her
memoir "On My Own Two Feet" was completed on time. "I didn't try
to do it, I didn't hope to do it. I absolutely declared it."
Realizing goals comes down to commitment, says the "Dancing with the Stars" finalist. "When I'm committed, I do not
back down. It doesn't come down to mirror balls or gold medals – neither of
which I have. It's about experiences you wouldn't have had otherwise.
"The most common
denominator of all my success is that I was 'all in to win,'" Purdy said,
echoing this year's NEW Summit theme.
Learn from your experiences, she urges. "When I look back on my life I
realize nothing was an accident. Nothing was a mistake. I've gone on to live
stories that no one could ever imagine."
Accepting 'what is' and
daydreaming of what can be have worked for Purdy, who recommends others do the
"I had no idea what
to expect. But if you asked me today if I'd ever want to change my situation,
I'd say no," Purdy shared. "My legs haven't disabled me. They've
"Facing our fears
head on allows us to live through our limits," Purdy added. "It's not
about breaking down borders, or overcoming obstacles, it's about using them [and] seeing what amazing places they might bring us."