Amy Purdy began snowboarding at 15, but when she was 19 a bacterial meningitis infection forced doctors to amputate both of her legs just below her knees. She endured a kidney transplant because of the infection at age 21, which she received from her father.
She returned to snowboarding soon after and began competing and advocating for others through her own foundation (Adaptive Action Sports), which was key in helping get the sport of snowboarding included in the 2014 Paralympic Games. She’s currently ranked No. 2 in the world and will be the only double amputee competing in snowboard cross on March 14. Three days later, she will partner with former Utahn Derek Hough on a new season of “Dancing with the Stars.” Deseret News sportswriter Amy Donaldson asked her five questions.
1. How does it feel, not just to be a Paralympian, but to be one of the people who was instrumental in helping to get snowboarding included in the games?
It’s a huge honor to be here. It’s really surreal. I have these moments where I think, "I’m at the Paralympic Games. This is everything I’ve worked so hard for, and everything every other snowboarder has worked for." It really came down to each one of the snowboarders kind of sticking it out all these years. We did so much without a true Paralympic sport. We traveled the world and showed up at World Cups, stuck it out and made it happen, usually with no funding.
2. Snowboarding is so much about how it feels. How do you snowboard without that normal sensation?
I think snowboarding before I lost my legs helped. I know what it feels like; I know what it’s supposed to feel like. I’m constantly striving to have that feeling. It’s best when I feel totally free and I’m not thinking about my legs, and now, it happens all the time. ... I have 90 percent less ankle flexion than an able-bodied snowboarder. I more snowboard with my knees now. It’s just all about adapting.
3. What’s the response been to your decision to participate in “Dancing with the Stars” and what do you hope comes from the increased visibility?
I didn’t realize until a few days ago the reach of the show. I was on a bus when they announced it ... and I started getting thousands of tweets. It hasn’t stopped yet. It’s really crazy. It started to hit me just as I was stepping into the Olympic Village. The timing is perfect. To be here, to represent my country in a sport that I love, as well as represent other people with disabilities, it’s just an honor. I’m grateful to be here competing, grateful to be chosen for the team and grateful to be chosen for the challenge of "Dancing with the stars." It allows us to focus on ability. I don’t like to focus on disabilities because we all have different levels of abilities, whether you’re missing a leg or not. I want to represent people who questioned what they were capable of.
4. How will you manage training for the show and competing in the Olympics?
I met with my dancer partner (Derek Hough) last week. We start (last Friday), and this is actually a pretty open week. We’ll be on snow every morning ... but then I’ll come back, take a little time off and meet up with Derek. We’re working on our dance for that first show, which premieres on March 17. My schedule is very hectic, but I’m kind of used to that. I compete on March 15, there will be a medal ceremony on March 15 and then I fly out to L.A. It’s very, very little time, but I’m really excited to just take on another challenge.
5. What will increased coverage do for the Paralympic movement?
It’s going to inspire a lot of other people to get involved in these sports. Just know you can overcome the obstacles, and not just overcome them, but be incredible athletes. It’s just another step of seeing these sponsors involved. They are treating us and supporting us like the Olympians. It’s huge. It’s changing the world, in a way.
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