Amy Purdy didn’t feel right. She was working as a massage therapist and without warning she became very tired. She went home to rest, while the rest of the then 19-year-old’s family went on a trip.
Hours later she woke, and her condition was much worse. Her hands and feet were purple. Parts of her face were purple. Her mother had called a cousin to come check on her. The cousin knew immediately that Purdy needed medical attention. She drove her to the emergency room.
“I was dying, and I knew it,” Purdy told Talk Business & Politics. “I kept thinking to myself ‘I’m dying. I’m dying.’ My life changed just like that.”
Purdy was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis, a rare but deadly bacterial infection. Her body went into septic shock. Doctors were forced to remove both of her legs below her knees, and eventually she would lose her kidneys.
Despite her physical ailments, Las Vegas native Purdy would win medals in the Paralympics, finish runner-up on the “Dancing With The Stars” television show, become one of Oprah Winfrey’s 100 thought leaders, and write a New York Times bestselling book — among her many other accomplishments. She recently was a guest speaker for First Community Bank’s women’s mentoring group in Batesville.
Spearheaded by longtime bank employees Laura Brissey and Leann Siler in 2022, the mentoring group gained traction and had a substantial increase in membership to 62 women by 2023, according to the bank.
The group delved into Purdy’s book “On My Own Two Feet.” Bank executives decided to bring Purdy in and other members of the community were invited to attend a motivational talk by her at the University of Arkansas Community College’s Batesville campus.
Months after losing her legs, Purdy said she was mired in depression. The first set of prosthetic legs she had looked like something “you’d find in the plumbing section at the Home Depot,” she said with a laugh. An avid snowboarder, she said she didn’t know if she’d ever get the chance to hit the slopes again. There weren’t any prosthetic feet designed for snowboarding, so Purdy said there was only one option — she designed her own.
Soon she was back boarding through the snow. Some of the first feet she designed are now on display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
“Little did I know that the loss of my legs would become my biggest asset,” she said.
Even as she learned how to cope with no legs, other physical challenges soon emerged. When she turned 21 her kidneys went into full failure, and she had to receive a new kidney from her father.
“It was the greatest gift of my life,” she said.
As time moved along, Purdy said she began to collect new legs and feet. One advantage she had while dating is that she could be as tall or short as she wanted to be, so her dating pool expanded.
In 2005, she founded Adaptive Action Sports, along with her husband Dan Gale. The organization’s goal was to allow people with physical disabilities to participate in action sports. Another goal of the organization was to get snowboarding in the Paralympic Games. Purdy’s efforts paid off and in 2014 snowboarding became an official Paralympic sport. Despite being the only person in the competition without both legs, she took home the bronze medal.
During the games she received an unusual offer. The show “Dancing With The Stars,” wanted her to compete. Celebrities are paired with a professional dancer and each week they perform on the show with the lowest rated pair eliminated. Purdy had heard of the show but knew little about it. There were several problems. First, her only dance experience was as a clogger when she was a child. Second, she was still competing in the Games and the other pairs would have three weeks to prepare for the first week’s competition.
“DWTS” executives flew professional dancer Derek Hough to work with Purdy when she had time off. Purdy said she would spend the first four hours of the day training for her competition and then spend the last four hours learning to dance with Hough.
She was only able to train with him three times before he returned to the U.S. Purdy finished with a silver medal at those games and 72 hours after she stood on the podium, she was in front of a live studio audience ready to dance in front of millions of viewers.
Purdy said she thought her stint on the show would be short-lived, but each week she and Hough continued to advance. One problem they encountered was that every dance was different, and she had to find different feet each week.
“Resilience isn’t found. It’s forged,” she said.
Finally, the duo was faced with a fast-paced song that Purdy said she couldn’t find feet for. The competition was on Monday and the Friday before she couldn’t find any feet that would work, and they hadn’t developed a routine.
Her husband had an idea. He told her to dance on her prosthetic running blades. It worked and they advanced. Eventually, the duo lost in the final to Merle Davis, an ice dancer who won a Gold Medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Purdy later competed in the Paralympics in South Korea. She took to the podium again, this time winning a silver medal.
She suffered another series of setbacks in 2020 when one of her prosthetics injured her leg and she had to have 10 surgeries to fix the arterial damage. Walking has been a struggle until recently and she someday hopes to snowboard again.
Purdy now works as a motivational speaker and she travels the world. She offers one simple piece of advice to everyone she speaks to.
“If your life could be a book and you could be the author… what story would you tell?” she said. “You have to know your strength. You have to know your power. My legs didn’t disable me. They enabled me.”