Amy Purdy founded Adaptive Action Sports with boyfriend Daniel Gale in 2005, while she was simultaneously trying to get back on a board following a diagnosis of bacterial meningitis that left her in a three-month coma. Due to the lack of circulation during her illness, both of Purdy’s legs were amputated below the knee. After a series of surgeries and nearly two years later, Purdy competed in her first snowboard competition since losing her limbs, and has been working ever since to give others in her position the same opportunity to get involved in action sports.
For the past three years, Adaptive Action Sports has been at the Summer X Games, with its Adaptive Super X Race—which is broadcast live on ESPN— and the Adaptive Skate Park Jam. The non-profit organization, which is run primarily through donations and dedicated volunteers, also holds camps for youth looking to get involved in adaptive action sports, and recently launched a forum on its website for the adaptive community as a place to ask questions and find resources. We caught up with Purdy to ask her a few questions about the organization’s involvement in X Games and her plans for continuing to develop the organization and the programs offered in the future.
How did AAS get involved with sponsoring the Super X Race and Skate Jam?
I started AAS with Daniel Gale, my boyfriend, and at the time I was trying to get involved and get back on a snowboard and skateboard and still trying to do all the stuff that I used to. When we started brainstorming where we wanted it to go, we knew we wanted to be able to see it someday in the X Games, when I was in hospital I thought it would be incredible to see someone with a prosthetic leg skateboarding or snowboarding to that level. It’s like then you know you are going to be OK if you are in the same situation as I was.
We knew adaptive action sports needed to be in the X Games. Daniel approached them and said we have all these amazing athletes, all our core advocates are skating and snowboarding and riding MX at pro levels. They loved the idea of the skate jam, and at the time we only knew of three adaptive MX riders, so we just threw it out there that they were amazing and for some reason ESPN jumped. We pooled our resources and put the word out and brought out all athletes we could the first year, and it turned out to be a great success. From that point, all these MX riders from around the world emailed us and started sending us videos, wanting to be involved and inspired to ride in the X Games. We aired it live last year and this year it is going to air as well on ESPN. It’s incredible because its turned into our fastest growing sport in the adaptive community. There were MX riders who were injured and saw it last year, and it inspired them to get back on a bike.
This year, we collaborated with Extremity Games, and had all the MX riders prequalify. That took place in May in Michigan. We automatically brought back the top two riders, first and second place, from last year. Extremity Games Network – they hosted this race for us, which was great and was able to bring out all the riders.
Have you been working directly with anyone in the action sports industry?
It’s challenging. We reached out to Element to help create some publicity around what we are doing. Element is incredible. They have done so much on the skate side, sending out photographers to our events, and sponsoring and supporting our events. Vans also supports us. When it comes to traveling and paying for volunteers it’s been challenging, so we are always so grateful every year that we are able to pull it off. With the economy the way it is, people who would have donated $5,000 now donate $500. It’s a labor of love for us and so it’s worth it at the end.
What other events does AAS sponsor/hold?
We do the Summer X Games Skate Jam and Moto X. The skate jam is incredible because we bring out skaters from all over. They represent AAS and have some sort of phsycial disability—we have a deaf BMX rider that comes out. There was a great group last year. David Beckham brought his whole family out to watch, it’s just so inspiring.
We’ve also been doing the Winter X Games for three years. We have snowmobile and MX adaptive riders, and we also bring out adaptive snowboarders. They usually have someone open the event— little rippers— and once they come down the hill they start the event. We started adding our guys to the riders as well. I get up and tell their story, and most people just think this is just another pro rider coming down the hill. But when I tell people that this is a guy who lost his leg in a motorcyle accident, it’s incredible the response we get from the audience. It’s amazing for us. I feel very proud that they are involved.
How about the Skate division of Adaptive Action Sports?
The skate side hasn’t grown as much. We are really starting to implement a program getting youth and young adults involved with clinics this year, to start getting more people and more kids out there on skateboards. This year we have four new riders coming out which is pretty good. What has been great is we have gotten a lot more opportunity to get our skaters involved in bigger projects. Our skate team was invited to skate in the opening ceremonies for the Paralympics, which is the first time action sports has been involved. It’s a pretty positive thing because we are working hard to get snowbarding involved for the Paralympics in Russia.We also work with Element Skateboards and do the Element YMCA skate camp. Last year we brought three kids up who had prosthetic legs. We do small clinics to introduce the sport to kids with prosthetic legs and then kids who are more advance can come to the Element camp for seven days.
There is a lot of funding and support for classic sports. That’s kind of what happened to me when I lost my legs. I got tons of support to run or swim or ski, but it’s not what I wanted to do—I wanted to snowboard. So I figured there must be a way. That’s why we started adaptive action sports to show kids out there, or anyone else who has a disability, that they don’t just have to do traditional sports.
How important is it to work with the X Games on these events? What opportunities does it present to your organization?
It’s huge. When we first brought the idea up to them that we wanted to do the adaptive MX race, we only knew of three adaptive riders out there riding at that level and now in our third year we have so many amazing adaptive MX riders out there now. It’s been a huge platform for us to help grow and get support for our organization and also for these amazing MX riders to get out there and share stories and inspire others to not slow down and keep pushing forward. With our snowboarding division, we’ve always had more numbers as far as the growth of it, but now adaptive MX is growing because it’s part of X Games and airs live on ESPN, it’s grown so much it’s unbelievable. It’s been such a great opportunity for us to get our mission out there and help other people. Our ultimate thing is to show everyobody—not just someone who has a disability—that you can accomplish amazing things in your life if you are inspired.
How important has it been to you personally to be able to meet and work with these other athletes?
I’m so passionate about everything we do. My story is pretty crazy and to meet these other people and see them get back on bike or a board, it’s just amazing. Every year we work with them, every event we do with AAS, I just get so much enegery from them to want to work with peole, and to get the message out there that you can truly do what you put your mind to.
When I first lost my legs, I didn’t look at myself as having a disability. I didn’t want to all of a suden think ‘Oh so now that I have prosethic legs all my friends are going to be disabled.’ I thought I’m not putting myself in that class. The funny thing now is that everyone I am close with is our athletes and I look forward to spending time with them more than anything. I feel like you get to see a whole different side of life when you are around these people who have faced crazy challenges and are pushing it to the limit. I think everyone walks away inspired to live life to the fullest. Our volunteers have been the same every year because they feel the same. I feel very very blessed with who I’ve been able to meet and work with.
What are your future goals (both short term and long term) for the organization?
I think definitely just being able to get adaptive snowboarding to the Paralympics and continuing to grow our programs. We kind of started from the top and are working our way back. Instead of us starting with little clinics and camps, and hoping one day we would make it to X Games and the Paralympics,we stared the other way. We also have national championships that we do and more programs under that; a learn to ride program and boardercross and halfpipe clinics so we can teach riders how to do these things and they can work there way up to larger events. We are donation only so our goal is to bring in enough funding so we can add more learn to ride and training clinics under all our sports. When we first stared my main goal was to make sure that if someone was in a similar situation as me, that there was a place for them to go. So if they looked up disabled motocross or disabled snowboarding online, that there were answers there. On our website we just created a message board for the adaptive community. We get so many emails from people around the world who want to snowboard or ride dirt bikes but don’t know what type of adaptive equipment to use. So we put this together so everyone can interact and answer questions and help each other out. I’m excited about that. I’ve been a part of message boards for years. It’s a great way to interact with people who have gone through the same thing.