Passion, perseverance lift Amy Purdy
Waking up from a coma is not at all like waking up from a normal night's sleep, Amy Purdy says. It's a slower, more methodical process. A system reboot of a computer rather than a simple restart.
"My feet have turned a dark shade of purple," the processing went. "My hands are black."
As she continued to emerge from her two-week coma, one in which doctors gave her a 2 percent chance to survive, she learned that bacterial meningitis had caused her to lose circulation to her extremities, and this meant both of her legs would have to be amputated from the knee down.
"You can't even imagine the feeling you get when someone tells you that you are about to lose your legs," Purdy said. "But in a weird way, because it happened at the same time that I was so thankful to just be alive, I was able to stay positive. I kept thinking to myself, 'It could be worse; I could be losing my hands, too, or even my life.'"
On Friday, the 34-year-old Purdy will compete in the inaugural snowboard cross competition at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi. Then three days later, on Monday, she will become the first Paralympian to appear on "Dancing With the Stars."
At age 19, Purdy was facing a bright future. An avid snowboarder who hit the slopes every chance she got, Purdy had just accepted a prestigious position at Canyon Ranch Spa, a world-class facility in her hometown of Las Vegas, after graduating from massage therapy school in Utah.
"I had completely found my independence because I had this awesome job, I could pay my own bills, and I could save money," Purdy said. "I told my mom, 'I feel like I'm on top of the world.' I was in complete control of my life."
Less than 24 hours after saying that, she would lose all control. What started as a few aches and pains grew into flu-like symptoms. Then her condition quickly worsened.
Soon her organs and respiratory system began to shut down, and an ambulance rushed her to the hospital.
The eventual diagnosis was Neisseria meningitides, a form of bacterial meningitis that often leads to death. The stage that usually precedes death is a coma. A moment before entering that state, Purdy remembers thinking to herself, "This is what it's like to die."
But she also remembers another feeling, a beacon of optimism piercing the fog of uncertainty.
"I remember thinking to myself, 'There's more in store for me; this is not it,'" she said.
Then, silence. A silence different from what she had experienced snowboarding on the Utah slopes. It was not a mere absence of sound. It was an absence of life.
But soon after the surgery that removed both of her legs below her knees, Purdy's mind turned to snowboarding. For her, the question was not if she would snowboard again, but when. Remarkably, the answer came a mere six months later.
In August of 1999, Purdy entered a new phase of her life -- one in which she was without legs but certainly not without passion.
That fall and winter, she became fixated on discovering ways to attack the slopes again. With prosthetic feet that would move the right way, she discovered she could train her hips and upper legs to do the rest. By February of 2000, she was back on the slopes. And her love for snowboarding only intensified.
Her courage, confidence and passion combined to propel her toward remarkable success.
After entering a snowboarding competition at Mammoth Mountain in California, she received a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation to enter more competitions nationwide. In 2002, while snowboarding, she met her boyfriend and partner, Daniel Gale. Three years later, they co-founded Adaptive Action Sports, an organization that supports and guides amputees with an interest in snowboarding and skateboarding.
Through AAS, Purdy and Gale have realized landmark achievements in the sporting industry, including getting adaptive boardercross into the Winter X Games in 2011.
Recently, the snowboarding duo has extended its competitive pursuits into pop culture. In 2012, Purdy and Gale competed on the 21st season of "The Amazing Race." And just last week, Purdy was selected as a contestant on the 18th season of "Dancing With the Stars."
Only one problem with that last commitment -- Purdy is in Russia. So ABC has sent dance partner and five-time champion Derek Hough over to Russia to choreograph dances in between Purdy's snowboard runs.
"Snowboarding helped save my life," Purdy said. "I was so distracted trying to figure out how I was going to snowboard again I didn't have time to be depressed or pity myself."
Most would call Purdy's journey from death's door to athletic heights a story of triumph in the most daunting of circumstances. Purdy simply calls it "a way of life."