09:37
TEDxOrangeCoast

Amy Purdy: Living beyond limits

Filmed:

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

If your life were a book
00:04
and you were the author,
00:06
how would you want your story to go?
00:10
That's the question
that changed my life forever.
00:13
Growing up in the hot Last Vegas desert,
00:18
all I wanted was to be free.
00:21
I would daydream about
traveling the world,
00:24
living in a place where it snowed,
00:28
and I would picture all of the stories
00:31
that I would go on to tell.
00:34
At the age of 19,
00:37
the day after I graduated high school,
00:39
I moved to a place where it snowed
00:42
and I became a massage therapist.
00:45
With this job all I needed were my hands
00:47
and my massage table by my side
00:50
and I could go anywhere.
00:53
For the first time in my life,
00:56
I felt free, independent
00:59
and completely in control of my life.
01:02
That is, until my life took a detour.
01:07
I went home from work early one day
01:13
with what I thought was the flu,
01:15
and less than 24 hours later
01:17
I was in the hospital
01:21
on life support
01:23
with less than a two percent chance of living.
01:25
It wasn't until days later
01:28
as I lay in a coma
01:30
that the doctors diagnosed me
01:33
with bacterial meningitis,
01:35
a vaccine-preventable blood infection.
01:38
Over the course of two and a half months
01:42
I lost my spleen, my kidneys,
01:44
the hearing in my left ear
01:48
and both of my legs below the knee.
01:51
When my parents
wheeled me out of the hospital
01:56
I felt like I had been
pieced back together
01:58
like a patchwork doll.
02:01
I thought the worst was over
02:05
until weeks later when I saw my new legs
02:07
for the first time.
02:10
The calves were bulky blocks of metal
02:12
with pipes bolted together for the ankles
02:16
and a yellow rubber foot
02:20
with a raised rubber line
from the toe to the ankle
02:23
to look like a vein.
02:26
I didn't know what to expect,
02:29
but I wasn't expecting that.
02:32
With my mom by my side
02:35
and tears streaming down our faces,
02:38
I strapped on these chunky legs
02:43
and I stood up.
02:47
They were so painful and so confining
02:50
that all I could think was,
02:54
how am I ever going to travel the world
02:57
in these things?
02:59
How was I ever going to live
03:01
the life full of adventure and stories,
03:03
as I always wanted?
03:05
And how was I going to snowboard again?
03:08
That day, I went home, I crawled into bed
03:12
and this is what my life looked like
03:16
for the next few months:
03:18
me passed out, escaping from reality,
03:20
with my legs resting by my side.
03:24
I was absolutely physically
and emotionally broken.
03:29
But I knew that in order to move forward,
03:37
I had to let go of the old Amy
03:41
and learn to embrace the new Amy.
03:46
And that is when it dawned on me
03:52
that I didn't have to be five-foot-five anymore.
03:55
I could be as tall as I wanted!
03:59
(Laughter) (Applause)
04:02
Or as short as I wanted,
depending on who I was dating.
04:07
(Laughter)
04:11
And if I snowboarded again,
04:13
my feet aren't going to get cold.
04:15
(Laughter)
04:17
And best of all, I thought,
04:19
I can make my feet the size
of all the shoes
04:21
that are on the sales rack.
(Laughter)
04:25
And I did!
04:27
So there were benefits here.
04:29
It was this moment that I asked myself
04:32
that life-defining question:
04:34
If my life were a book
04:37
and I were the author,
04:39
how would I want the story to go?
04:43
And I began to daydream.
04:45
I daydreamed like I did as a little girl
04:48
and I imagined myself
04:51
walking gracefully,
04:54
helping other people through my journey
04:57
and snowboarding again.
04:59
And I didn't just see myself
05:02
carving down a mountain of powder,
05:04
I could actually feel it.
05:06
I could feel the wind against my face
05:09
and the beat of my racing heart
05:12
as if it were happening
in that very moment.
05:15
And that is when a new chapter
in my life began.
05:20
Four months later
I was back up on a snowboard,
05:26
although things didn't go
quite as expected:
05:29
My knees and my ankles wouldn't bend
05:32
and at one point I traumatized
all the skiers on the chair lift
05:35
when I fell and my legs,
05:39
still attached to my snowboard —
05:44
(Laughter) —
05:46
went flying down the mountain,
05:50
and I was on top of the mountain still.
05:53
I was so shocked,
05:56
I was just as shocked as everybody else,
and I was so discouraged,
05:58
but I knew that if I could find the right pair of feet
06:02
that I would be able to do this again.
06:06
And this is when I learned
that our borders
06:08
and our obstacles
can only do two things:
06:11
one, stop us in our tracks
06:15
or two, force us to get creative.
06:18
I did a year of research,
still couldn't figure out
06:22
what kind of legs to use,
06:24
couldn't find any resources
that could help me.
06:26
So I decided to make a pair myself.
06:28
My leg maker and I
put random parts together
06:31
and we made a pair of feet
that I could snowboard in.
06:34
As you can see,
06:37
rusted bolts, rubber,
wood and neon pink duct tape.
06:40
And yes, I can change my toenail polish.
06:47
It was these legs
06:50
and the best 21st birthday gift
I could ever receive —
06:52
a new kidney from my dad —
06:55
that allowed me to follow my dreams again.
06:58
I started snowboarding,
07:01
then I went back to work,
then I went back to school.
07:03
Then in 2005 I cofounded
a nonprofit organization
07:05
for youth and young adults
with physical disabilities
07:09
so they could get involved
with action sports.
07:11
From there, I had the opportunity to go to South Africa,
07:15
where I helped to put shoes
on thousands of children's feet
07:19
so they could attend school.
07:22
And just this past February,
07:24
I won two back-to-back
World Cup gold medals —
07:26
(Applause) —
07:31
which made me
07:40
the highest ranked
adaptive female snowboarder
07:41
in the world.
07:45
Eleven years ago, when I lost my legs,
07:46
I had no idea what to expect.
07:50
But if you ask me today,
07:53
if I would ever want to
change my situation,
07:55
I would have to say no.
07:57
Because my legs haven't disabled me,
08:00
if anything they've enabled me.
08:02
They've forced me to rely on my imagination
08:04
and to believe in the possibilities,
08:08
and that's why I believe
08:11
that our imaginations can be used as tools
08:12
for breaking through borders,
08:15
because in our minds,
we can do anything
08:17
and we can be anything.
08:20
It's believing in those dreams
08:23
and facing our fears head-on
08:25
that allows us to live our lives
08:28
beyond our limits.
08:30
And although today is about
innovation without borders,
08:33
I have to say that in my life,
08:36
innovation has only been possible
08:40
because of my borders.
08:42
I've learned that borders are where the actual ends,
08:45
but also where the imagination
08:50
and the story begins.
08:53
So the thought that I would like
to challenge you with today
08:55
is that maybe instead of looking at
our challenges and our limitations
08:58
as something negative or bad,
09:03
we can begin to look at them as blessings,
09:06
magnificent gifts that can be used
to ignite our imaginations
09:09
and help us go further
than we ever knew we could go.
09:14
It's not about breaking down borders.
09:20
It's about pushing off of them
09:24
and seeing what amazing places
09:27
they might bring us.
09:30
Thank you.
09:32
Translated by Paola Buoso
Reviewed by Elena Montrasio

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About the Speaker:

Amy Purdy - 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.
More profile about the speaker
Amy Purdy | Speaker | TED.com