"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 go?"
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 stress disorder.
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 same.
"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 enabled me.
"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."