Amy Purdy’s Lessons on Dancing in Life Without Legs

Paralympic snowboarding champion, Amy Purdy, shares her story of overcoming nearly impossible odds after losing her legs at 19 years old.

By Christina Westbrook, editor in chief, Perspectives

If your life was a book and you were the author, how would you want your story to go? This was the question that changed Amy Purdy’s life.

We had the privilege of hearing Purdy’s life story first-hand during Dell Technologies World 2021. Read through the summary of her story below and then experience the power of the recorded version in full.

Less Than 2-Percent Chance of Survival

One morning in 2003, a 19-year-old Amy Purdy left for her job as a massage therapist, feeling healthy and ready for her day. Halfway through her morning, she started to feel achy and unwell. Once home, she spiked a fever and fell into a deep sleep that was impossible for her to shake.

“I was alone in my room, but then, suddenly, I heard a voice clearly say, ‘Amy, go look in the mirror,'” explains Purdy. She threw her feet over the edge of her bed and noticed that they were purple; then she saw that her hands were purple, and, lastly, her reflection, as well.

After a short, tense ride to the nearest hospital, Purdy was given less than a two-percent chance of surviving. Over the course of the 2.5-month treatment that followed, she lost kidney function and hearing in her left ear—then her spleen and, eventually, both of her legs. What doctors thought was the flu ended up being a very deadly and acute meningococcal meningitis infection. Purdy’s life was changed forever.

Rewriting Her Story

It was when she was in bed for months that she started to think about that big life question: what was her story going to be? She began dreaming about snowboarding and visualized herself carving down a mountain of powder, feeling the wind on her face.

Purdy’s first home made snowboarding feet, now on display in the Smithsonian.

This propelled her to return to the sport as a double-amputee. Being back on the board was rough at first—several times, her board and her prosthetic legs flew down the mountain without her. But Purdy was resilient. She set out to build her own prosthetics that would be purpose-built for snowboarding.

“I realized that the borders and the obstacles in our lives can only do two things: Stop us dead in our tracks or force us to get creative,” she says.

In 2005, after her 21st birthday—and the gift of a new kidney from her father—Purdy decided to start Adaptive Action Sports. Living up to their mission—to pursue human potential—they provide action sports programs for youth, young adults, and veterans with disabilities.

“I realized that the borders and the obstacles in our lives can only do two things: Stop us dead in our tracks or force us to get creative.”

–Amy Purdy, co-founder of Adaptive Action Sports, US Paralympian, and author

Purdy and her family assembled a team of snowboarders and began pushing for their sport to be part of the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia. After being turned down several times, they were finally granted access to the Paralympic Games, debuting para-snowboarding for the first time in history. Since then, her snowboarding team has brought home six medals and elevated the visibility of the sport.

“I realized that the greatest challenges of my life have allowed me to have the greatest moments of my life,” says Purdy.

Dancing the Quick-Step Without Legs

“I didn’t know how I was going to do it—or if I could do it,” shares Purdy. During her 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, she was simultaneously learning to dance to compete on Dancing With the Stars. Each dance was practiced in the afternoons following her Paralympic practice and competition in the mornings. Her dance partner flew to Sochi to practice with her and they made it through each week’s dance together. “While other dancers were choosing their shoes, I was choosing which feet I was going to use,” says Purdy.

“While other dancers were choosing their shoes, I was choosing which feet I was going to use.”


All went smoothly until it came to the quick-step, a light-footed ballroom dance. Purdy struggled with how to use any of the prosthetics she had for such a bouncing, fast movement. Until her husband suggested he send her the running blades that were sitting in her closet. He overnighted them and the rest is history. Back in the United States after winning a bronze medal in para-snowboarding, she gave an incredibly moving performance on the reality TV series, with her athleticism and heart on full display.

Since her illness took her legs 18 years ago, Purdy has managed to squeeze as much achievement and joy out of her life as possible. “Maybe instead of looking at all our challenges and obstacles as something negative or bad,” she proposes, “maybe we can look at them as little gifts that ignite our imaginations.”