When CBS announced the cast for the 21st season of The Amazing Race in August, fans of snowboarding, skateboarding, and adaptive sports recognized two prominent names in the mix: Amy Purdy and Daniel Gale, co-founders of Adaptive Action Sports.
Their organization has helped bring adaptive sports — including Adaptive Snowboarder X, Adaptive Skier X, Mono X, Adaptive Skateboarding, and Adaptive Moto X to the X Games and now to the Paralympics. Xavier Gonzalez, CEO of the International Paralympic Committee, announced in May that Para-Snowboarding will make its Paralympic debut with the addition of men’s and women’s Adaptive Boardercross as a medal sport at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, with qualifiers beginning in January, 2013.
The Amazing Race premieres at 8 p.m. ET Sunday, and while CBS executives wouldn’t let any secrets out about how the race shakes out, we were able to catch up with Purdy, a double beneath-the-knee amputee and the top-ranked female adaptive snowboarder in the United States, and Gale, who has served as sports organizer for all of the adaptive events at X Games over the past seven years, for a sneak preview of their race around the world and the even more exciting races ahead. Purdy and dozens of other athletes working with Adaptive Action Sports will train for qualifying events on the road to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
ESPN.com: I know we aren’t allowed to talk about any of the specifics of this season’s race, but can I ask, more generally, about what the experience of participating on The Amazing Race has been like for you?
Amy Purdy: The Amazing Race is everything that you would expect it to be and more. I think it’s going to be a great platform for my message, which is that it’s not really about me trying to show how able or how capable I am so much as that we’re all able, we’re all capable. We all have challenges and we all face adversities. We all have to adapt. The Amazing Race is perfect for me because it’s all about adventure and travel and taking risks and throwing yourself out there and challenging yourself. That’s what I’ve been doing with my life anyways, so it’s a beautiful platform to be able to take that to a bigger audience. I really do feel blessed.
The two of you co-founded the Adaptive Action Sports organization in 2005. How has that experience running an organization together and working together built a framework for you to work as a team on something like The Amazing Race?
Daniel Gale: Well, first of all, co-founding an organization like Adaptive Action Sports is a huge undertaking, especially for such a deserving community of people, and setting out to run an organization like that heightens your drive to achieve and set goals and really strive to meet those goals. Translating that into an adventure like The Amazing Race, I think the biggest thing we’ve learned from our experiences together is that whatever comes along, you have to adapt quickly! That’s something we say to our new athletes who are just coming on board with Adaptive Action Sports and it’s something we’ve learned from a lot of the athletes we work with: If there’s a will there’s a way. That’s sort of a cliche, but it’s so true. People adapt to make things happen if they really want them to. We took that mentality into The Amazing Race and we really try to live that way.
Purdy: Running the organization has been a challenge for us all along because Daniel and I are also a couple and we work together as business partners. We wear lots of different hats in our relationship, and I think because of that we know where we can push buttons and we know how to communicate with each other under different circumstances and different challenges. We don’t always communicate awesomely, but going onto the race we felt really confident because of knowing each other as well as we do.
Last year I caught up with snowboarders Andy Finch and Tommy Czeschin as they were getting ready to premiere in Season 19 of the race. They ended up doing pretty well, ultimately finishing in fourth place. Did you get a chance to chat with them to get any tips before your race?
Gale: We know those guys but we never really had a chance to powwow because everything happened pretty quickly once we found out we were racing. But we’re huge fans of those two and we loved the way they ran their race. We took whatever notes we could from watching them in Season 19.
Purdy: We were really inspired by their attitudes going into the race and how well they worked together. We definitely took that with us and kept them in the back of our mind as role models. I think it’s good to see racers on the show who aren’t always super dramatic, who are just entertaining because of who they are.
What was your reaction after the Paralympic announcement was made in May? This would have been right around the time you were first preparing for The Amazing Race, right?
Purdy: It’s so exciting it’s crazy. Everything in my life has just been getting more and more amazing. When I did the TED speech for TEDxOrangeCoast in 2011 and it went viral, I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is just incredible.” This is what I set out to do: I wanted to speak, I wanted to have a platform, and I got that opportunity and thought, “I just don’t know if it gets any more amazing than this.” And then we get offered the opportunity to go on The Amazing Race and I’m thinking, “This is insane!” We’re huge fans of the show and we knew it would be another incredible platform. And then literally just before going on the race we find out that the Paralympics have accepted snowboarding! We’d originally been denied last summer and had given up on it for 2014 and gone back to our normal lives, and then, suddenly, it was on. Now we’re working so much on what’s to come that we’ve barely even had time to process it all. We just moved to Summit County in Colorado and I’ll be training out here probably six days a week for the next two years.
What do you think turned the International Paralympic Committee around and got snowboarding fast-tracked for Sochi?
Purdy: Honestly, I think it was seeing it at the X Games. The X Games opened their arms to us and gave us the opportunity to showcase our sport in a world-class venue, and that was a huge help because it allowed us to show the rest of the world — and the Paralympic Committee — what we’re capable of.
What does the qualification process for the Paralympics look like over the next two years?
Purdy: This year I have to do four qualifiers. I’m the top-ranked rider in the U.S. and last year I was the top-ranked in the world, but even though I have those credentials they’re pretty much wiping the slate clean and everybody has to qualify. I am working harder than ever to qualify for the team because this is really a dream come true. I was 19 when I lost my legs. I’d dreamt of this adventurous life that I wanted to live, and I refused to let it get out of reach. I remember thinking, early on, after I realized that I could still snowboard, “If snowboarding is ever in the Paralympics, I’m absolutely going to be there.” It’s just so cool that we were able to help get it there and that my dream has made a lot of amazing things happen. Now that I actually get to try to qualify for the team, the next two years are going to be incredibly busy. I’ve never been so excited to be so busy.
The Adaptive Action Sports motto is “Live Beyond Limits.” What do you hope people take away from seeing you compete on The Amazing Race?
Purdy: I think the thing people love about the show and the reason it’s so popular for fans is that it’s real, everyday people racing. I hope people see us and see that we’re real people with real challenges who have worked really hard to get to where we are, to live beyond limits. I hope the take-away is that if you work hard, anything’s possible. We try to live every day of our lives as a great adventure, and we’re just really excited that we get to share that experience with everybody else who’s watching.
Gale: Amy is an amazing person and it’s an honor to be on the race and be her teammate, on the show and in everything else we do. Hopefully she’ll crush it at the Paralympics — I know she will — and if people want to support our Paralympic efforts they can visit AdaptiveActionSports.org to learn more about our work and to make a donation to help her train and to help the many other athletes we’re working with.