Amy Purdy: Living beyond limits
May 19, 2011
When she was 19, Amy Purdy lost both her legs below the knee. And now ... she's a pro snowboarder. In this powerful talk, she shows us how to draw inspiration from life's obstacles.
(Filmed at TEDxOrangeCoast.)
- Pro snowboarder
Amy Purdy became a professional snowboarder despite losing both her legs to meningitis. She encourages us to take control of our lives, and our limits. Full bio
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
If your life were a book
and you were the author,
how would you want your story to go?
That's the question
that changed my life forever.
Growing up in the hot Last Vegas desert,
all I wanted was to be free.
I would daydream about
traveling the world,
living in a place where it snowed,
and I would picture all of the stories
that I would go on to tell.
At the age of 19,
the day after I graduated high school,
I moved to a place where it snowed
and I became a massage therapist.
With this job all I needed were my hands
and my massage table by my side
and I could go anywhere.
For the first time in my life,
I felt free, independent
and completely in control of my life.
That is, until my life took a detour.
I went home from work early one day
with what I thought was the flu,
and less than 24 hours later
I was in the hospital
on life support
with less than a two percent chance of living.
It wasn't until days later
as I lay in a coma
that the doctors diagnosed me
with bacterial meningitis,
a vaccine-preventable blood infection.
Over the course of two and a half months
I lost my spleen, my kidneys,
the hearing in my left ear
and both of my legs below the knee.
When my parents
wheeled me out of the hospital
I felt like I had been
pieced back together
like a patchwork doll.
I thought the worst was over
until weeks later when I saw my new legs
for the first time.
The calves were bulky blocks of metal
with pipes bolted together for the ankles
and a yellow rubber foot
with a raised rubber line
from the toe to the ankle
to look like a vein.
I didn't know what to expect,
but I wasn't expecting that.
With my mom by my side
and tears streaming down our faces,
I strapped on these chunky legs
and I stood up.
They were so painful and so confining
that all I could think was,
how am I ever going to travel the world
in these things?
How was I ever going to live
the life full of adventure and stories,
as I always wanted?
And how was I going to snowboard again?
That day, I went home, I crawled into bed
and this is what my life looked like
for the next few months:
me passed out, escaping from reality,
with my legs resting by my side.
I was absolutely physically
and emotionally broken.
But I knew that in order to move forward,
I had to let go of the old Amy
and learn to embrace the new Amy.
And that is when it dawned on me
that I didn't have to be five-foot-five anymore.
I could be as tall as I wanted!
Or as short as I wanted,
depending on who I was dating.
And if I snowboarded again,
my feet aren't going to get cold.
And best of all, I thought,
I can make my feet the size
of all the shoes
that are on the sales rack.
And I did!
So there were benefits here.
It was this moment that I asked myself
that life-defining question:
If my life were a book
and I were the author,
how would I want the story to go?
And I began to daydream.
I daydreamed like I did as a little girl
and I imagined myself
helping other people through my journey
and snowboarding again.
And I didn't just see myself
carving down a mountain of powder,
I could actually feel it.
I could feel the wind against my face
and the beat of my racing heart
as if it were happening
in that very moment.
And that is when a new chapter
in my life began.
Four months later
I was back up on a snowboard,
although things didn't go
quite as expected:
My knees and my ankles wouldn't bend
and at one point I traumatized
all the skiers on the chair lift
when I fell and my legs,
still attached to my snowboard —
went flying down the mountain,
and I was on top of the mountain still.
I was so shocked,
I was just as shocked as everybody else,
and I was so discouraged,
but I knew that if I could find the right pair of feet
that I would be able to do this again.
And this is when I learned
that our borders
and our obstacles
can only do two things:
one, stop us in our tracks
or two, force us to get creative.
I did a year of research,
still couldn't figure out
what kind of legs to use,
couldn't find any resources
that could help me.
So I decided to make a pair myself.
My leg maker and I
put random parts together
and we made a pair of feet
that I could snowboard in.
As you can see,
rusted bolts, rubber,
wood and neon pink duct tape.
And yes, I can change my toenail polish.
It was these legs
and the best 21st birthday gift
I could ever receive —
a new kidney from my dad —
that allowed me to follow my dreams again.
I started snowboarding,
then I went back to work,
then I went back to school.
Then in 2005 I cofounded
a nonprofit organization
for youth and young adults
with physical disabilities
so they could get involved
with action sports.
From there, I had the opportunity to go to South Africa,
where I helped to put shoes
on thousands of children's feet
so they could attend school.
And just this past February,
I won two back-to-back
World Cup gold medals —
which made me
the highest ranked
adaptive female snowboarder
in the world.
Eleven years ago, when I lost my legs,
I had no idea what to expect.
But if you ask me today,
if I would ever want to
change my situation,
I would have to say no.
Because my legs haven't disabled me,
if anything they've enabled me.
They've forced me to rely on my imagination
and to believe in the possibilities,
and that's why I believe
that our imaginations can be used as tools
for breaking through borders,
because in our minds,
we can do anything
and we can be anything.
It's believing in those dreams
and facing our fears head-on
that allows us to live our lives
beyond our limits.
And although today is about
innovation without borders,
I have to say that in my life,
innovation has only been possible
because of my borders.
I've learned that borders are where the actual ends,
but also where the imagination
and the story begins.
So the thought that I would like
to challenge you with today
is that maybe instead of looking at
our challenges and our limitations
as something negative or bad,
we can begin to look at them as blessings,
magnificent gifts that can be used
to ignite our imaginations
and help us go further
than we ever knew we could go.
It's not about breaking down borders.
It's about pushing off of them
and seeing what amazing places
they might bring us.
- Pro snowboarder
Amy Purdy became a professional snowboarder despite losing both her legs to meningitis. She encourages us to take control of our lives, and our limits.Why you should listen
After bacterial meningitis took her legs, Amy Purdy struggled with depression, and only beat it when she learned to accept her new reality, but not any limitations. After being unable to find prosthetics that would allow her to snowboard, she built her own. Today, she is a world champion female adaptive snowboarder. In 2005, she co-founded Adaptive Action Sports, a non-profit dedicated to introducing people with physical challenges to action sports.
The original video is available on TED.com