Amy Purdy vividly remembers the day she thought she might die.
The then-19-year-old felt very sick and thought she was coming down with the flu. “I was weak; I was shaky,” she shares with Yahoo Lifestyle. “And when I stood up, I realized that I couldn’t feel my feet. My feet were purple; my hands were purple.”
She adds: “I just knew right in that moment that I was dying.”
Purdy was rushed to the emergency room and put on life support. She had contracted meningococcal meningitis — a serious and potentially deadly infection. It’s caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis, which targets the protective membranes around the spinal cord and brain, leading to swelling, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
She was given a less than 2 percent chance of living but managed to survive. “I ended up losing both of my legs below the knees… I lost my spleen, and I lost the hearing in my left ear,” she says. “All of this pretty much happened overnight.”
Purdy adds: “I remember being wheeled into the operating room where they were going to amputate my legs. I was so scared. I had no idea what my life was going to be like. I was a snowboarder. This world is made for legs. At least that’s how I felt.”
Despite everything she was going through, Purdy says that while she was stuck in her hospital bed, all she could think about was snowboarding again — a sport she had fallen in love with at age 15. “I didn’t know how,” says Purdy, who grew up in Las Vegas. “I just knew that I was going to figure out a way.”
Purdy got prosthetic legs and eventually found her way to a snowy mountain, ready to try snowboarding as a double amputee. “I remember the day that I went up to snowboard for the first time,” she says. “I hit this bump. I fell. My legs came completely detached from my body. I remember thinking, ‘This is why you don’t see people with two prosthetic legs snowboarding because it’s obviously not possible. But then I thought, if the legs didn’t exist, maybe it’s because nobody’s really tried.”
She continues: “I figured it out along the way and realized along the way just how strong I really was.”
Wanting to share her love of sports with others, Purdy and the man who is now her husband, Daniel Gale (they married in 2015), founded the nonprofit organization Adaptive Action Sports in 2005. “We get kids and adults with disabilities into action sports,” she says.
But Purdy, who wrote the book On My Own Two Feet, didn’t stop there. She set her sights on — and succeeded at — getting her favorite sport, snowboarding, included in the Paralympics. “We were able to get snowboarding into the 2014 Paralympic Games for the very first time,” says the three-time Paralympian. “I was the first female to ever bring home a bronze medal in Paralympic snowboarding. And also I was the only double leg amputee competitive snowboarder at that time. I was so grateful to represent what the possibilities were.”
Purdy isn’t one to shy away from challenges, but even she admits she was “terrified” when she was asked to go on “Dancing With the Stars.” “Someone with two prosthetic legs had never done anything like this before,” she says.
She joined the cast in Season 18, with dance partner Derek Hough, and used different types of prosthetic feet, depending on the style of dance. Purdy says being on the show was one of the most challenging experiences she’s ever been through — and that’s saying a lot. But she pushed herself to do it so she could inspire others with disabilities. “I want to be able to show just how capable we are,” she says.
Purdy adds: “I believe that no matter what our circumstances are, we’re capable of so much. And if you’re passionate enough and you’re willing to work hard enough and get creative, then the possibilities are endless.”
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