Amy Purdy has lived and breathed snowboarding for most of her life, but when she lost both of her legs as a teenager and her slope-shredding days seemed over, she pushed herself to keep going. She became a world-champion adaptive snowboarder and an inspiration to others.
“If somebody would’ve told me that I was going to lose my legs at the age of 19, I would’ve thought there’s absolutely no way I’d be able to handle that,” she told “Nightline” anchor Cynthia McFadden. “But then it happened and I realized that there’s so much more to live for, that my life isn’t about my legs.”
As a kid growing up in the Las Vegas desert, Purdy, 32, said she dreamed about snow.
“I tried snowboarding at 14 and I absolutely fell in love with it,” she said. “I snowboarded every day off I had, every weekend I had off of school, every holiday we had off from school, and it became a huge part of my life, not just what I love to do, but really just kind of who I was.”
Until one morning, 13 years ago, when Purdy said she started to feel weak — and within 24 hours was in the hospital on life support. Both of her lungs had collapsed and she says she was given only a two percent chance of survival. Doctors discovered her blood had become infected with meningitis, a form of deadly bacteria that attacks the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord. Both of Purdy’s legs had to be amputated below the knee.
“I was in kidney failure. I ended up having a kidney transplant on my 21st birthday,” Purdy said. “I lost my spleen, I lost the hearing in my left ear, so I had a lot of internal organ damage. My legs really at the beginning were the easiest part, believe it or not.”
When she woke up from her coma, Purdy said she knew immediately she had to find a way to get back on her snowboard.
“You have to dig down pretty deep when something like this happens to you,” she said. “I mean I was just like every other girl, you know, here I had worked so hard to have a body that’s in shape and that’s healthy, and then suddenly I lose my legs…”
Driven by sheer passion, Amy Purdy was snowboarding again just seven months after her ordeal.
“When you’re passionate for something, nothing can stop you,” she said.
When Purdy started out after her recovery back in 2000, there was no prosthetic that worked for snowboarding, so she and her doctor fashioned a foot from scratch that would work on the board.
“It’s a random kind of Frankenstein foot,” Purdy said. “It’s a foot that was already built — that’s made of wood, actually, and then it was an already existing ankle joint, some of the already existing pieces that we just put together differently so that I could ride.”
Today, Purdy is a world champion, having won three World Cup gold medals in adaptive snowboarding, and she also wakeboards and skateboards.