Paralympic legend Amy Purdy focuses on para community after recent health scare
COPPER MOUNTAIN RESORT — On Friday evening at the ninth annual Easterseals Colorado Season of Lights Gala in Denver, Summit County local and U.S. Paralympic legend Amy Purdy will receive the inaugural Jake Jabs Community Impact Award.
For an accomplished athlete and pop-culture star like Purdy, Friday’s honor will be the latest award in a jet-setting career where she’s been in the spotlight routinely — including as a participant on the “Dancing with the Stars” television show. That said, the Easterseals community impact award comes at a pivotal time for Purdy and the Adaptive Action Sports para-snowboard program she co-founded with her husband and Adaptive Action Sports Executive Director Daniel Gale.
On one hand, Adaptive Action Sports was the United States’ contingent at this week’s para-snowboard World Cup events in the Netherlands, as five athletes who train at Copper Mountain Resort continued their Paralympic dreams. Beyond the U.S., with more than 80 athletes and 17 countries on hand, it was the largest season-opening para-snowboard event ever.
On the other hand, Purdy — who lost her legs in 1999 due to bacterial meningitis — has surfed the struggle of another health complication over the past nine months. It’s one that disabled her from being able to use her prosthetic legs. In turn, the situation has paused her ability to snowboard.
“The last nine months were devastating,” Purdy said Thursday. “I’ve grown to be very attached to my legs as they are. Even my prosthetic legs are an extension of me. So after I spent so many years working up to where I am today, to think I could be losing that was difficult.”
Purdy said her health scare this year stemmed from a blood-clotting complication related to the wear-and-tear of walking and snowboarding on her prosthetic legs for many years.
When she receives the Jake Jabs Community Impact Award on Friday, Purdy will share with the Easterseals crowd the elements of community that have not only helped Adaptive Action Sports to grow but also have helped her to persevere despite her health complication.
Growing the sport
More than 80 athletes and 17 countries competing in para-snowboarding is a far cry from the para-snowboard world Purdy entered at age 19. Afterward, Purdy took the simple steps to merely snowboard again. Eventually, her effort and drive spawned Adaptive Action Sports and enough interest in para-snowboarding to compete at the Paralympics and to attract many more World Cup participants and divisions.
“It is really amazing,” Purdy said Thursday. “I will tell you, when I started it was just me in Las Vegas, dreaming of snowboarding again. But I had to build my own (prosthetic) feet to snowboard. There were no resources out there. But I connected a few people online to take a snowboarding trip.”
Fast forward a decade and a half, and the simplicity of Purdy’s digitally organized snowboarding trip has evolved into Adaptive Action Sports partnering with Dew Tour to operate para-snowboarding competitions. That includes this coming February’s Dew Tour at Copper Mountain. Purdy has been an elite competitor at those Dew Tours, including in Breckenridge last December.
With para snowboarding growing while Adaptive Action Sports has been based in Summit, the organization has provided opportunities for dozens of para-snowboarders — whether they have Paralympic ambitions or hopes to use the opportunity in a more cathartic recreational way. Through it all, the Summit County and greater Colorado communities have repaid Adaptive Action Sports with community support in the same spirit the organization provides.
“It’s completely taken on a life of its own,” Purdy said. “It’s amazing and makes me think, ‘If something doesn’t exist, you can create it.’”
“Any little kid now who has a disability can look on TV,” Purdy added, “watch a Paralympic Games and think, ‘If they can do that, I can, as well.’”
Due to the health complication, Purdy’s snowboard career came to a sudden stop just three months after December’s Dew Tour. Less than a year after Purdy won silver and gold medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Paralympics, she again experienced a life-changing moment in Las Vegas.
While flying from one speaking engagement in Las Vegas to another in Nebraska, Purdy noticed a cramp in her left calf. By the time she woke up in Nebraska, her leg hurt so badly she decided to jump on another plane to return to Denver. When she did, she checked herself into the emergency room at St. Anthony Hospital to make sure the pain was nothing serious.
But it was. Purdy then found out about the massive blood clot from her hip down every artery in her left leg. Purdy said she and the doctors believe it was the end result of an injured artery behind her knee due to constant pressure from her prosthetic. As she went through the four-surgery process to remove the clot and stretch out her arteries affected by the trauma of her blood clot, Purdy’s frustration mounted. She’s used to doctors being able to fix things and, in this case, it wasn’t so simple.
“But I eventually sank into, ‘I’ve been here before; I can do it again,’” Purdy said. “‘I have preserved before. I can do it again. I can find a way or adapt.’”
Purdy said a day-by-day approach to her prosthetic-less situation has helped her mentally. With that, she said she’s progressed significantly in recent months. Purdy’s hopeful the next step is to make a prosthetic leg that will enable her to exercise on a spin bike. She hopes that will help her build muscle to improve blood flow. If and when that’s successful, she hopes to be strong enough to be able to walk in a prosthetic. And, best case scenario, it’ll all lead to snowboarding again.
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