Amy Purdy has a seriously impressive resume. The 39-year-old Las Vegas native is a New York Times best-selling author, a renowned motivational speaker, and a “Dancing With The Stars” alum. She also pioneered the sport of adaptive snowboarding, co-founding the non-profit Adaptive Action Sports with her husband to aid athletes with physical disabilities and campaign for the addition of snowboarding to the Paralympic Games. The sport made its Paralympics debut in the 2014 Sochi Games.
On top of that, Purdy is an accomplished athlete herself. The professional snowboarder is a two-time participant in the Paralympic Games, three-time Paralympic medalist, and one of the top-ranked adaptive boarders in the world. So like we said, her resume is extensive.
Yet these accomplishments, in particular the athletic ones, didn’t come easily. Purdy, 38, who became a double amputee below the knee after contracting bacterial meningitis at age 19, put in a lot of hard work, both on and off the slopes, to achieve these accolades.
SELF chatted with the Summit County, Colorado resident before her next high-profile competition—the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado this Thursday, December 13—to learn more about the behind-the-scenes effort it takes to reach such impressive athletic feats, her dynamic journey with the sport, and how she's helping fellow athletes along the way.
To prep for big competitions like the Paralympics, Purdy works out for up to 30 hours a week, including 20 hours on the slopes and 10 hours in the gym.
In the lead up to the 2018 Paralympics in Pyeongchang, Purdy hit the snow four to five days a week for four hours each day. These mountaintop sessions included time spent testing different equipment, practicing different carving drills, and finessing her techniques. She also spent some less structured days simply riding around the slopes to specifically prep for her main event, snowboard cross (also known as boarder cross), in which competitors race through a variety of elements, including turns, berms, jumps, and obstacles.
Because of the various terrains and skills required in snowboard cross, “the more all-around rider you are in all types of conditions, the better you’ll do,” says Purdy. For that reason, “a lot of times our training really is utilizing the whole mountain, whether it’s going through the trees, or going through the park, or hitting different berms, or going through a racing course, or doing a slalom course. All of those things transfer over to how we compete in our sport.”
Though this type of free-range practice ultimately helps her become a better snowboarder, it also “ends up being pretty fun,” says Purdy. “Sometimes it’s hard to call it training when you’re just out there free riding.”
In addition to this on-the-slopes training, Purdy hit the gym four to five days a week for two hours a day, doing various weight training workouts with a personal trainer, as well as barre classes, stretching, and balance training. Her main priorities: building total-body strength and improving her balance, two skills critical to the sport.
Yet as intense as that routine sounds, it's more low-key than her former routine. After a serious arm injury in 2016, Purdy scaled back the intensity of her workouts. Adequate recovery is now an important part of her training.
Two years ago, Purdy suffered from rhabdomyolysis (also known as rhabdo), a condition in which muscle tissue breaks down and releases a harmful protein into the bloodstream. Rhabdo can be caused by intense exercise (Purdy contracted it after an especially grueling pull-up session), and if not treated quickly, it can be fatal.
Purdy spent multiple days in the hospital recovering from the injury (she chronicled her stay on Instagram), and though she’s since recovered, she says the experience significantly altered her approach to training. Purdy says she used to jump into high-intensity exercise classes and give it everything she had. “It felt amazing and that’s what athletes do—you push past these barriers and that’s a huge reason I love athletics and I love working out like that. But obviously I ended up with a severe injury because of that.”
Now, she spends less time in the gym and more time listening to her body. “I don’t have to totally deplete myself to get a good workout in,” says Purdy.
She also limits her time on the slopes. “It’s easy to want to be on the snow every single day, but obviously recovery time is really important as well, especially having two prosthetic legs,” says Purdy. “Our legs can take quite a beating from snowboarding six hours a day.” As a result of this dialed back training, Purdy says her overall muscle mass was much lower during the 2018 Paralympic Games compared to the 2014 Paralympic Games. Yet, surprisingly, that didn’t hinder her performance on the slopes. In fact, in Pyeongchang, “I rode my best,” she says.
Purdy attributes much of her recent success in part to a pre-race deep breathing and visualization ritual.
“Standing in the start gates, specifically for the Paralympics, you know the world is watching,” says Purdy. “For Paralympic snowboarding, it’s still quite a small sport so we’re not used to a lot of spectators. We’re not used to cameras in our face. The pressure can suddenly get really intense.”
To ground herself during these moments, Purdy employs a technique that she recently learned from a sports psychologist. She closes her eyes, take a deep breath, and visualizes a lake with waves rippling along the surface, as if a pebble were just tossed in. As she slowly exhales, she imagines the ripples gradually disappearing and waits until the water is completely smooth before taking another breath.
This visualization helps Purdy mentally remove herself from a high-stress situation. “It calms me down instantly and completely puts me in the moment so when I open my eyes up, my anxiety is gone,” she says. From there, she’s able to calmly tackle the task at hand.
Purdy says this technique—which she now applies to her everyday life—proved especially useful in Pyeongchang, where she wasn’t the youngest, fastest, or strongest competitor in the field. Yet thanks to her ability to calm her mind down and stay in the moment, she says, "I rode better than I’ve ever rode through all last season.” She walked away with a silver medal in the snowboard cross, and a bronze in the banked slalom.
Purdy isn’t sure yet if she’ll vie for a spot on the 2022 Paralympic team—she’ll likely decide next summer—but in the meantime, she's committed to helping the next generation of athletes.
Thinking toward her future goals, Purdy, who says she’s been riding “better than ever” this season, wants to continue to learn, grow, and compete as a snowboarder, whether or not she returns to the Paralympics. This season, her training is "more mellow," as she's relieved from the pressure of winning medals and thus able to "really just ride for the love of it."
Beyond that, Purdy wants to empower today's youth through athletics. She recently partnered with Target and Always to support Girls on the Run, a nonprofit that helps girls ages 8 to 13 build confidence, make friends, and develop positive emotional, social, mental, and other skills through weekly workouts and curriculum.
She also remains committed to helping athletes with disabilities through Adaptive Action Sports. “It’s been so fulfilling being able to help others fulfill their dreams,” says Purdy, who trains a team of aspiring Paralympians through the organization. “Plus, our sport is so fun and empowering, I want to make sure people have the resources to be able to participate in it in the first place.”