Here is the full transcript of Pro snowboarder Amy Purdy’s TEDx Talk: Living Beyond Limits at TEDxOrangeCoast.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Living beyond limits by Amy Purdy at TEDxOrangeCoast
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 a hot Last Vegas desert, all I wanted was to be free. I would daydream about travelling 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 a hospital on life support, with less than a 2% 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 the 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 mum 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 adventures 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 5.5 ft. 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 walking gracefully, 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 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 toe nail 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 co-founded a non-profit organization for youth and young adults with physical disabilities so they could get involved with action sports.