Para snowboarder Amy Purdy on PyeongChang, her mentoring role and when she’ll finally get a vacation
Amy Purdy won bronze at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics in snowboard cross, and her life has only gotten busier since. She appeared on Dancing with the Stars, wrote a best-selling memoir and joined Oprah Winfrey’s eight-city tour “Oprah’s The Life You Want Weekend” delivering motivational speeches.
She performed at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Opening Ceremony and also runs a non-profit organization, Adaptive Action Sports, which helps people with disabilities participate in outdoor activities.
Purdy, now 38, will compete in PyeongChang’s snowboard cross and banked slalom events beginning Sunday. She took the time to answer some questions from the media prior to starting her campaign.
What are your goals for the Paralympic Winter Games?
We’re all here to do our best and, of course, your eyes are set on those medals. For me it’s a much bigger picture. I find myself thoroughly enjoying racing these days because it’s this mind game and if I can win at my own mind game, I have so much fun.
(The mind game) is keeping your nerves calm and being able to ride your best, and for me just being in the moment. I know if I can be in the moment and not be frantic, and not be too aggressive, and literally breathe and enjoy the moment, then I have the most fun and I ride the best. That’s my goal.
I want to be able to walk away from this sport knowing I gave it everything that I had and was able to represent our sport, represent (what) double leg amputees can do, and represent anybody that has a physical challenge, (to show) what’s possible. I want to ride my best. In order to do that, I know I have to have my mental game in place.
So this is your last Paralympic Winter Games?
I don’t know. I’ve not decided yet.
The way you mentioned walking away, it sounded like it could be…
I know. I don’t know. It’s so funny, I thought it was going to be my last Games, I’ve got a lot going on outside of this. Somehow, for the last year and a half, I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had. I’ve taken the pressure off, I’ve learned so much, and as long as I’m learning and growing I shall continue, otherwise what am I gonna do? Jump into another sport and have to start over? Why not keep doing what you love?
I’m just going to see what happens after these Games, see how I feel. Now that we’ve got two sports - we (also) have banked slalom - it’s nice. We have something that’s a little (gentler). I had quite a few injuries this year and I am getting older, obviously.
Going into Sochi I had no injuries, but four years later it seems like (I’m picking up) this and that, and so it’s nice that we now have a second option. Banked slalom doesn’t have the jumps, it’s not as aggressive. To be honest there are people in their 50s who ride banked slalom for fun, so maybe I want to keep down that road. We’ll see.
Is being a role model still important to you?
Yeah, absolutely. Going into Sochi, we found out just 18 months before that we were going, that snowboarding was in the Games, so I was a little frantic at that time, trying to figure out my leg settings, my board settings, and trying to train.
I knew that I wanted to do my best, so it was a little more selfish in a sense because I was like, ‘I have to do this. I have to do well. I have to represent our sport, I have to bring a medal home’. (I put) a lot of pressure on myself.
This time I don’t have to do anything. I do (snowboarding) as long as it’s fun and I do it because I want to. I also see a much bigger picture. I want to represent this sport. I want to represent what’s possible. I want to help other people to believe that they can do it as well, whether it’s this sport or anything else they want to do in their life.
I tend to, through social media, give people insight into the challenges I’ve faced because that’s very real. But again, they can also see the accomplishments and see what’s possible: you can go through the worst of the worst but still accomplish and have success.
So yeah, it’s important for me. I just realized this year I have this voice, I have this platform; I have a lot of followers on social media who are able-bodied, and whether they’re athletes or kids I want to just share life and share my love for the Paralympics, and this sport, and get people excited about it, and just (let them) know that no matter what happens in your life, the possibilities are endless.
What is the one bit of advice you wish you had heard when you were going through your rehabilitation?
I think if you’re passionate about something and you’re willing to work really hard and you persevere through any challenge that comes your way, (then) the possibilities are endless.
I don’t like to say anything’s possible because in our sport we’ve got people who have spinal cord injuries, they might not be able to walk again. Not everything is possible, no matter how hard you try. But as far as what’s got me to where I am, it’s passion and excitement for what I do and (a willingness) to work hard.
Do you feel like a big sister to some of the younger athletes competing in a Paralympic Winter Games for the first time, such as 22-year-old Brenna Huckaby?
I’ll tell you what: she’s come in on fire and if anything, I took time off when she stepped into our sport. I came back injured and I came back an underdog, trying to keep up with where the bar had been set by Brenna and the other athletes.
To be honest, I would not say that’s our dynamic. I’ve tried to help as much as I can, but she’s pretty much got it figured out. If anything, I’m riding my own game…
It’s kinda hard to mentor athletes that you’re competitive with. It doesn’t really seem to work that way. You can high-five each other, pat each other on the back, but ultimately you’re trying to win this race, so you can’t help but put yourself in a competitive bubble and focus on what you need to do.
What brings the greater pressure: the Paralympic Winter Games or being a contestant on Dancing With The Stars?
Dancing With The Stars was like doing the Paralympics every week because it was like, ‘This is your one shot, the world is watching, don’t mess up. You’re being judged, you can get kicked off right away.’ The pressure was pretty similar and I think (the Paralympic Winter Games) set me up for Dancing With The Stars. All of a sudden I was in Dancing With The Stars in front of 18 million people… I think the Paralympics prepared me for performing under pressure.
And I have the same goal (here) as Dancing With The Stars, which was overwhelming at first and I had no idea what was going on, and all of a sudden we were in week four (of the TV show) and I was like, ‘Wait, I’m still here? So I’m doing something right’. At that point my goal was, ‘I just want to be in the moment. I want to be able to hear the music and enjoy the moment’. You can get overwhelmed and you forget what you just did. Sometimes racing is like that as well. You can do a run and you’re like, ‘What did I even do?’ Because you have so much adrenaline and you’re frantic.
All I wanted was to be in the moment and toward the end of Dancing With The Stars something clicked. I was able to hear the music and the crowd. Everything slowed down and it was this amazing zone to be in.
That’s what I want to now bring back to my racing with the Paralympics. (To) not get ahead of myself and thoroughly enjoy every moment. When I do that you realize there’s time to make adjustments, it’s not going as fast as you think it is. You slow everything down.
They work hand in hand: the Paralympics prepared me for Dancing With The Stars and Dancing With The Stars has hopefully prepared me for the Paralympics.
What is your next adventure?
I would like to vacation. It was a whirlwind for a bit there and everything overlapped. Dancing With The Stars overlapped with the Paralympics, then I wrote a New York Times bestselling book (On My Own Two Feet: From Losing My Legs To Learning The Dance Of Life). Then I found out I was doing (the) Oprah (tour), so I did that and that overlapped with the Super Bowl commercial that I shot, and then at the same time I do a lot of motivational speaking and corporate speaking and I had all those speeches lined up. For two years I was home for a day at a time, gone for a week – non-stop.
(With Adaptive Action Sports) I want to be able to get kids on snowboards and get people excited about outdoor adventure and sports and living life to its fullest, and travel, and I want to do more of that with our organization, actually to be able to give a little bit more.
It’s been the hardest journey of my life and yet at the same time the most rewarding of my life. Everything that’s ever been worth it was the hardest thing I’ve gone through. The last couple of years have been unreal.
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