Amy Purdy: Life is too short not to move forward

How a Paralympian overcame a devastating loss

It's impossible to deny Amy Purdy's success.

Beyond the trophies and medals she earned as a world-class snowboarder, there is her ability to overcome medical circumstances that others might have seen as insurmountable. Purdy's legs were amputated below the knee when she came down with bacterial meningitis at age 19. She fought off septic shock and multiple organ failures, which eventually led to her receiving a kidney transplant from her father when she was 21.

After her illness Purdy, who had been snowboarding since she was 15, was determined to not let her amputation stop her from tearing up the slopes.

"In order to move forward, I knew I had to let go of the old Amy somehow and learn to embrace the new Amy," she said.

Amy Purdy in action during training on Dec. 18, 2013, in Copper Mountain, Colorado.
Doug Pensinger | Getty Images

It wasn't easy. Purdy's first pair of prosthetics were crude and definitely not made for someone with competitive snowboarding aspirations. She said they looked like they had come straight from Home Depot. Purdy recalls saying to herself: "These can't be the legs that I'm going to live the rest of my life in."

It took some trial and error to develop a pair of prosthetics fit for competitive snowboarding, but Purdy was able to compete and medal at the USASA National Snowboarding Championship just months after her kidney transplant. She went on to earn a bronze medal at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi.

Purdy's fierce determination has now been channeled into her nonprofit organization, Adaptive Action Sports, which hopes to show that "the 'disabled' can 'live beyond their limits' " the way Purdy does every day. AAS certifies instructors and provides training for adaptive athletes with the ultimate goal of increasing respect for disabled people.

Along the way, AAS and Purdy have developed relationships with the USA Snowboarding Association. They created an adaptive division and have advocated for similar divisions internationally.

Amy Purdy performs on "Dancing with the Stars" on April 21, 2014.
Adam Taylor | ABC | Getty Images

While Purdy is committed to sharing her experience and to acting as a role model, she doesn't limit herself to her first love of snowboarding. Days after standing on the Olympic podium in Sochi, she debuted on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," and with her partner made it all the way to the finals, where she lost to Olympic ice dancer Gold medalist Meryl Davis.

"I had all these different passions, and I realized that life is so short and I wanted to use what I have," she said of her pursuits. "I felt like I had more inside of me."

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