10:16PM EST September 30. 2012 – When the reality show The Amazing Race premiers Sunday night on CBS, the cast will include a heavy metal rocker, a world champion lumberjack, Chippendale Dancers and Amy Purdy, the top-ranked adaptive snowboarder in the world last year.
Purdy, a double amputee, hopes to qualify for the U.S. national team this season and eventually compete in the Para-Snowboard competition which will make its debut at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
“I learned a lot from the race that I’m going to apply to my snowboarding skills,” Purdy, 32, told USA TODAY Sports. “Being on top of your game and being confident with the task you’re choosing and going for it and not really second-guessing yourself, that’s huge — with the race and snowboarding.”
In this season’s show, teams travel across three continents, through nine countries and cover more than 25,000 miles. Beginning in California, the contestants will repel off a 10-story-high bridge and later fry an egg on their heads in Indonesia and work as rat collectors in Bangladesh in pursuit of the $2 million prize.
“I walked away confident in my abilities,” Purdy said. “I knew I was capable going into it otherwise I wouldn’t have signed up for it, but I learned just how capable I was. Some of the things I was worried about didn’t happen. You can psyche yourself out and you realize you’re so much stronger and more capable than you thought.”
Purdy began snowboarding at 15 but her life changed at 19. After experiencing flu-like symptoms, she was rushed to the hospital. En route, she experienced respiratory and multiple organ failure which caused her to lose circulation to her extremities. She was diagnosed with meningitis and given less than a 2% chance of survival once on life support and placed into a coma.
Because of the lack of circulation she suffered, her legs were amputated below the knee and later received a donated kidney from her father just before turning 21. Three months after her kidney transplant, she competed in the national snowboarding championship where she won medals in three events. She went on to be the first double-leg amputee competitive snowboarder and last February won consecutive World Cup competitions, making her the top-ranked adaptive snowboarder in the world.
Purdy has spent the last decade overcoming barriers, and in “The Amazing Race” she obviously faced obstacles other competitors did not.
“I knew with prosthetic legs there would be challenges that other people I’m competing with don’t have to deal with,” she said. “But once the adrenaline gets going, I realize that honestly I forget that I have prosthetic legs. That’s huge because I’m reminded of it every day. I have to put my legs on every single day. I realize that they’re not that comfortable but once the adrenaline kicks in and once you have a goal, you just go. I kind of overcame any discomfort I thought I was possibly going to have.”
In the show, Purdy’s teammate is her boyfriend, Daniel Gale. Together, the couple founded Adaptive Action Sports, a non-profit organization which helps the disabled youth, young adults and wounded veterans get involved with action sports. The organization was instrumental in getting adaptive snowboarding added to the Sochi Games. Purdy hopes her involvement with the show will also bring awareness to disabled athletes.
“You’re starting to see more and more amputees and more and more people with disabilities in the limelight but this show is really about abilities,” Purdy said. “I really hope that it does showcase not just my ability but open something up in the viewers who are struggling with finding their abilities. Maybe inspiring people to not just give up, to take risks and to challenge themselves.
“Just because I’ve got two prosthetic legs, yeah I had to adapt in ways, but I’ve also become a lot stronger. It doesn’t mean I’m at any disadvantage really.”