Amy Purdy poses for a portrait at the Team USA Media Summit ahead of the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Sept. 27, 2017 in Park City, Utah.
There is a chilling photo that Paralympian Amy Purdy posted on Instagram earlier this year that is accompanied by a heartfelt, meandering prose as its caption. She’s sitting in a hospital bed, days after having had both of her legs amputated below the knee due to a near-fatal meningitis infection. The year is 2001. She’s 21 years old.
But she has an unmistakable smile on her face.
“I had been cut into numerous times. … I was literally patched back together like a patchwork doll,” she writes below the photo. “(But) I never ever gave up on myself. No matter what your circumstances are, don't ever give up on yourself. You are important and your contribution to this world and humanity is needed.”
Four years after Purdy won the bronze medal in the debut of snowboardcross at the Paralympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, the 38-year-old is looking for another medal in PyeongChang this coming March. Since then, her own contribution to the world and humanity has grown in leaps and bounds, with her becoming an internationally known motivational speaker, a “Dancing with the Stars” runner-up, a best-selling author and a good friend to (and constant interview subject of) the one and only Oprah Winfrey.
“I never know what is around the corner but so far it’s been something good,” Purdy told TeamUSA.org at the Team USA Media Summit in September. “I kind of always have to have faith that whatever is next is what is meant for me.”
Before she entered the Olympic and Paralympic realm at the Paralympic Games in Sochi, Purdy gave a TED Talk that went viral in 2011. The talk, titled “Living Beyond Limits,” began with her asking a self-imposed question: “If your life were a book and you were the author, how would you want your story to go?”
The place that Purdy has taken her own story is to new heights: The astronomical success she experienced after Sochi in 2014 also included a featured spot in a Super Bowl commercial, as well as driving the pace car for the Daytona 500, dancing in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony in Rio last year and going on a speaking tour alongside Oprah, helping Purdy reach over 250,000 followers on Instagram.
“If I tell someone I’m a Paralympian, I would say 50 percent of the time they’re going to ask me, ‘Hey, do you know Amy Purdy?’” said Steve Cash, a member of the U.S. sled hockey team that has won gold at the last two Paralympics.
“She’s a well-known, household name,” he added. “To have athletes like that who are going to put themselves out there and not only specialize in their sport but dabble in a multitude of things, well it only helps drive the Paralympic Movement.”
It’s a movement that has become a passion for Purdy, who along with her husband Daniel Gale (who she married in 2015) runs Adaptive Action Sports, an organization that helps adaptive athletes compete in action sports, including a group that Purdy and Gale hope can make the 2018 U.S. Paralympic Team.
Purdy will look to match or improve upon her bronze in snowboardcross from Sochi this coming March, when she hopes to also compete in banked slalom, an event making its debut at the 2018 Games. She’s unsure if she will compete past 2018.
“Who knows,” she responds, batting away the question. “It’s the love of snow boarding that is the basis… I know some adaptive competitors that are in their 60s.”
But Purdy’s body has challenged her in the last four years, as well, injuries creeping up, forcing her to adopt a new diet and take on a more gentle training regimen, including yoga, extensive stretching and barre classes.
“My injuries have been more difficult than I expected,” she said. “I’ve been recovering. I have some of the best people that you can work with. It makes me focused on how I take care of my body. … I’m taking care of the big picture.”
That big picture for Purdy extends far past the ski hill: “I want to work with women and young girls more,” she explained. “I have this motto, ‘Live inspired.’ I want to use what I have to be the best I can be, so I have this abstract vision for what that can be, but that will have to wait until after the Paralympics.”
As much as she’s become a cross-cultural star, Purdy is still humble in her roots as a snowboarder: She put prosthetic legs on some seven months after her amputation in 2001 and five months later won the first competition she entered.
While she knows that “Dancing with the Stars” helped grow her social presence and reach, Purdy has also continued to be in-demand globally as a motivational speaker. The future is set beyond March, but that doesn’t mean she’s looking past it. This movement is better because of her, and her because of it.
“It’s really cool to be a part of this movement and share this movement with a lot of people who didn’t know what the Paralympics were beforehand,” she said. “It’s really cool to be a part of this all. People are interested. It’s a matter of putting it out there and having the media represent it properly. … It’s about educating people as to what the Paralympics are. We work just as hard as any other Olympian.”
It’s a story she’s authored herself, and one that couldn’t have been written any better. Nor by anyone else.