Purdy is one of the country’s most effective advocates for disabled outdoor athletes, and she came to her work the hard way: by losing both legs below the knees when she was 19. In the summer of 1999, bacterial meningitis sent her body into septic shock and set off a cascading series of organ failures that nearly killed her. A week before, she’d been a rising young snowboard competitor; suddenly, it looked like her career was over.
“I was lying in my hospital bed, watching the X Games on TV,” Purdy says, “and I remember thinking that if I could see just one person competing with a prosthetic leg, everything would be OK.” There weren’t any, but working with a prosthetics expert, Purdy created a leg with an articulated ankle joint that allowed her to bend her knees on a board. Within a year and a half, she was competing again. Since then she’s won three gold medals in adaptive events, most recently at the New Zealand Para-Snowboard World Cup.
In 2005, Purdy and her boyfriend, Daniel Gale, founded Adaptive Action Sports (AAS) to give other disabled athletes a path into extreme activities—from motocross to snowboarding to skateboarding. In addition to taking wounded veterans onto the slopes and halfpipe, AAS has created a competitive circuit for disabled riders and hopes to bring boardercross to the Paralympics by 2018. “When I lost my legs, there were no opportunities to move forward in snowboarding,” she says. Now, thanks in part to Purdy, there are 81 adaptive snowboarders competing around the world.