Amy Purdy likes to live outside of her comfort zone.
She makes it a point to push herself, stretch her limits and conquer new challenges.
So when she and her longtime boyfriend, Daniel Gale, were accepted to compete on the CBS show, “The Amazing Race” this season, she looked at it as just one more new test.
But the 32-year-old Purdy believed that as a competitive snowboarder — who had to learn to ride and thrive after losing her legs and a kidney because of the effects of bacterial meningitis at the age of 19 — it was a test for which she was perfectly adapted.
Now a top U.S. adaptive snowboarder aiming to compete at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, Purdy has traveled the world, become a motivational speaker, started a non-profit to help other adaptive athletes and done modeling and acting.
“I feel like I have been through so many mental and physical challenges in my life, that this to me was, honestly, I don’t want to say a piece of cake, but as far as making a chance to go on it, it was kind of not even a question,” said Purdy of the show that made its season debut Sunday night. “I definitely thought, ‘I have been through worse and overcome worse and taken on one of the most insane challenges, and I have lived outside of my comfort zone, really, since I lost my legs.
“Because I had to get used to legs with prosthetics, I had to get used to snowboarding. I had to challenge myself and take risks. Starting to motivationally speak, that’s totally outside of my usual comfort zone.
“So I just found myself being comfortable being uncomfortable. I realized I had no problem traveling all over the world, sleeping outside, barely eating.”
Though Purdy cannot reveal anything about her experience on the show, she said it lived up to its title.
Hopping around the globe, competing against other teams and overcoming challenges and obstacles was something she relished. Teams are constantly faced with physical, mental and emotional challenges on the show, and they have to work together.
Going into the “The Amazing Race,” Purdy said she and Gale — who have been together 10 years — knew there would be frictions they would have to work through. But as “best friends” who have also run their Adaptive Action Sports non-profit together for many years, Purdy said they just concentrated on keeping their lines of communication open during the whole process.
In the end, they came away the better for it and learned a little bit more about themselves.
“Even though I’m the only one with a physical disability, everybody has their own challenges throughout the race,” she said of the teams. “It’s pretty cool because you start to see where your strengths are. Pretty much we walked away learning so much about each other and our relationship.”
Purdy and Gale had tried out for the program once before, in 2006, and felt good about their chances, but didn’t make the cut. When they tried out again this time — a process that includes an application, making a video about themselves and a series of interviews — she said they didn’t feel nearly as positive about their prospects, so they were a bit surprised when they were selected.
“We just kind of decided it would be a great time to try one more time,” she said. “Especially since I’ve traveled a lot with snowboarding and with motivational speaking, and so having all that experience, I figured that would help. And, just realizing how capable I really am, just physically.”
Indeed, over the past six years Purdy’s confidence and capabilities have grown significantly.
Her work with Adaptive Action Sports has helped grow participation among adaptive athletes across the United States, and her work getting para-snowboarding into the X Games and building more national and international events for athletes such as herself eventually helped the International Paralympic Committee and the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee to include snowboarding into the Paralympic program for the first time in Russia.
Purdy, who’s been ranked the No. 1 adaptive snowboarder in the world, is excited about this year, to step up her training and ability level to not only make the U.S. team for Sochi, but to see how good she can get.
To Purdy, snowboarding always has just been part of her life. She started at age 14 in Las Vegas, where she headed out to snow-covered peaks at every opportunity. After she lost her legs, she had to relearn on prosthetics, but snowboarding still was more a passion than something she felt compelled to perfect.
Although she’s naturally talented — and won competitions worldwide — she said she’d never really worked specifically to improve her skills.
Now she has a new attitude about her boarding. She’s living in Colorado and focused on riding hard and improving with other athletes in Adaptive Action Sports. She’s spending hours, days and weeks sliding down Copper Mountain.
“I’ve never trained for snowboarding; I just snowboarded,” she said. “It was something I did. I lived on the mountain and I snowboard every day and I get better every day. We would train a little bit before a race, and I’ve always done really well in the races, but I’ve never really trained like an athlete for snowboarding. This is an opportunity to do that. To absolutely see how far I can go and see just how good I can be at this.
“I’m already riding really well, but you know when you actually train every day, you perfect your skills, and I’m really excited about it for that.”
In Sochi, men’s and women’s Paralympic snowboarders will be competing in snowboard cross (also known as boardercross), where athletes race down a course together, negotiating hazards and jumps.
Since 2002, Purdy has won multiple U.S. adaptive snowboarding snowboard cross championships and has won three World Cups.
The fact Purdy’s life still revolves around snowboarding is something she wouldn’t have thought possible back in 1999, when she contracted bacterial meningitis. The complications, including a condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation, caused her to lose circulation to many parts of her body, including her legs, and damaged some organs. Both legs had to be amputated below the knees and her kidney was damaged so severely that she eventually had to have a transplant two years later — when her father donated one of his.
Purdy’s long road back included a determination that she wanted to snowboard again.
She recalls her joy at one day seeing a professional snowboarder on TV who had a prosthetic leg.
“Oh my gosh, great,” she recalled thinking. “There’s another person out there like me.”
So she contacted him, then sought out other men and women across the country who were adaptive snowboarders. That led to group snowboard trips, followed by her founding Adaptive Action Sports with Gale.
Since then, she’s continued to challenge herself. Learning to board again opened new doors and gave her a new drive.
She left her comfort zone far behind.
“When I was 19, really my goal was to travel the world and snowboard, and that’s when I lost my legs,” she said. “So I was scared that that dream was totally cut short. But on the other hand, it also motivated me to figure out a way to do it.”