Amy Purdy is a snowboarder, skateboarder, wakeboarder, makeup artist, model and happens to be a double leg amputee. At the age of 19, after experiencing flu-like symptoms she was diagnosed with Bacterial Meningitis. Due to the lack of circulation in her legs she had suffered at the beginning of her ordeal, doctors had to amputate both her legs below the knee. After going through this life-altering trauma, Amy moved on with her life and not only participated in several Action Sports contest herself but also founded the non-profit organisation Adaptive Action Sports to help adaptive athletes get involved with action sports, art and music. Recently she has also become an Element Eden Advocate.
Interview by Anna Langer
You have recently become an Element Eden Advocate. How did it come to that?
Element has always been a favourite brand of mine and about two years ago I met the Element Eden Director Jardine Hammond at an event my organization Adaptive Action Sports was doing, that’s when I first found out about the Element Eden Advocates. I was instantly inspired by the program and somehow wanted to be apart of it, although I never mentioned that to anyone. Then, this past fall Jardine asked me to be apart of the Element “POWER TO THE PLANET" campaign and that’s where it all started. It was an incredible experience and after I met the Element family and learned more about the company I fell in love with the brand even more.
What does your role as Element Eden Advocate contain?
Element Eden is giving me a platform to pursue the things that are important to me. The President Johnny Shillereff and I speak at high schools and youth conferences together to help inspire the kids to never stop following their dreams. Through signature products we are able to reach more of an audience and create more opportunity for me to tell my story and motivate others. I paint but due to my schedule it has been awhile since I have had the chance to, but being involved with Element has inspired me to make my art a priority. They support me in my passions and help motivate me to pursue them.
What is your motivation to engage yourself in charity and volunteer work?
When I was in the hospital fighting for my life I had an experience where I flat lined on the operating table when my spleen had burst and needed to be removed. At that moment I remember having a choice between staying in this world with a life that would be changed forever or leaving. I chose to stay. With this choice I also chose to never allow myself to be a victim to my circumstances. Getting a second chance at life is such a gift and I want to use it the right way.
I have this constant desire to make a difference and share what I have learned through my challenges. I work with the National Meningitis Association helping to promote the Meningitis Vaccination so nobody else has to go through what I went through. I also am a spokes-athlete for the Challenged Athletes Foundation and I co-founded and run my own organization Adaptive Action Sports. For me the motivation comes from knowing that I can make a difference, so why wouldn’t I? Nothing feels better then knowing you are a part of something bigger then yourself.
I guess getting a sickness like you did would crush most people infinitely. What gave you the strength to not only move on but make even more of your life under harder circumstances?
After loosing your legs you made yourself the promise you would snowboard again. How long have you been snowboarding before?
I snowboarded for the first time at the age of 15 and I absolutely fell in love with it. All of my friends snowboarded and as I am an artist as well, I really related to the whole action sport culture. The night before I went into surgery for my legs, I remember making the promise to myself hat I would never feel sorry for myself and that I was going to snowboard again that year. At that point I couldn’t imagine a whole winter season going by without riding, so I was on a mission to get better so I could get back up on a snowboard. It certainly wasn’t as easy as I thought, First I had to get healthier, I was only 83 pounds (42.5 kg) when I left the hospital, had a severe kidney failure, had to get new legs, get them to fit and then learn to use them before I could learn to snowboard. But just 7 months after losing my legs I was back in the snow trying it out. It was painful and my legs did not bend and move like normal so I had a pretty tough time, but I did it, I stuck to my promise and from there I progressed.
Would you say you were more passionate about the sport before that sickness or now?
I would say I’m equally as passionate about it, although now I am more motivated to push myself and see how far I can go, I’m so curious. I like to test myself to see if it’s my mind that holds me back at certain things or if it’s my body. Most of the time I realize it’s my mind. For me it also feels really good to be a role model for others with disabilities. I feel that if they can see me up on a snowboard then they know they can do it as well, that with the proper support and equipment they too can pursue their passions.
Why did it have to be snowboarding, a sport where legs and feet are vitally important?
I just had the love for it and I truly believed that I could find a way to do it again and I am so grateful for that. It gave me a goal to focus on and I think I recovered much quicker because of that. I think it’s healthy to always have something to look forward to that keeps us moving. I was up for the challenge and I remember thinking “even if I have to go to NASA and have them build me a pair of special legs, I will do it". I love being outside and in nature, that’s also part of what draws me to it. It feels so good carving in powder through the trees, everything is so still and beautiful.
Does it sometimes feel unfair when you compete against people without disabilities? Or do you maybe also have an advantage?
It doesn't feel unfair at all! I have accepted that I have different circumstances then everyone else. I ride and compete because I love the way it makes me feel and I love to challenge myself, what better way to challenge yourself then to compete against someone with legs! If I have an advantage it would be that I now realize the power of my own thoughts. The way I think has gotten me further then my legs ever could.
Do you sometimes get the feeling you might even be favoured because people or judges know about your disability?
How do you react if you are confronted with people who seem to have everything but are still moaning about their life?
I have been in this situation many times. I have to be honest, sometimes it’s hard to hear other people complain about small things, especially when they complain to me about them. I have heard people complain about the small blemishes on their legs or how awful their lives are and it’s frustrating. That’s why I am very careful who I choose to be around. I have very positive, humble friends and when I find myself in a situation where someone is complaining about something small, I do my best to understand that most people have not had the degree of challenges that I have had, so it’s not really fair for me to judge.
What was your greatest achievement so far?
I have been able to do so much and have had wonderful opportunities but I think my greatest achievement was getting through that first couple of years after I got sick. I’m really proud of myself that I was able to create a great life when all odds were against me. I’m also proud that I have been able to start my organization Adaptive Action Sports. A lot of people think about the things they would like to someday do, and I am able to look at the things I have done.
Besides competitive sports you’re a spokeswomen, a make-up artist, a model and an actress, jobs in quite different directions. How did that come about?
Well, I’ve always been an artist and have loved doing makeup since I was a little girl so that came naturally to me and after I lost my legs I went to school for it. I also have always been interested in entertainment and even after I lost my legs I was interested in moving to LA to see what opportunities were out there for me. I ended up being a runway model in one of Madonna’s videos and realized how much I loved that creative environment. Acting was always something I was interested in, so when the opportunity came up for me to audition for the lead actress in a film I went for it and ended up getting the part. At this point in my life I am very comfortable in front of a camera and speaking in front of people so the spokeswoman part came naturally as well. Although I have many different jobs and passions, they actually do all go together. They are all creative and very challenging.
What other goals do you still have?
I have so many goals! I am currently working to enlarge my career as a public speaker. I want to continue to pursue my artistic passions including painting and doing makeup. I want to continue taking opportunities to act and of course I want to continue to help grow Adaptive Action Sports! As far as boardsports goes, I want to keep challenging myself and just recently I have really gotten involved in dirt biking and I would love to take it to the next level.
With your organisation Adaptive Action Sports you’re involved in the Element Awareness programme and skate camps this summer. Can you tell me more about this?
I am so excited that this summer my organization is working with Elemental Awareness and we are creating an “adaptive" youth skate session at the Element Skateboard camp. We have been wanting to work with kids ever since we started AAS and working together with the Elemental Awareness skate programs we are finally able to reach these goals.
How do people react to AAS? Was the response bigger than you would have expected?
It’s amazing how people have reacted to AAS. When we first started, we had no idea how many people were out there who had disabilities and who wanted to skate and snowboard, but after we launched our first website people came out of the woodwork. We realized pretty quickly that there was a significant need for what we were doing and that motivated us to keep moving forward with the idea. I am very grateful that we can make a difference and it feels good to be reminded that we are on the right path.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I see myself pursuing all of my passions and doing a lot more motivational speaking. It’s hard for me to just focus on one thing because I have so many passions and so much desire to fulfil them. Overall, I just want to live the best life I can and hopefully along the way I can help others do the same.