Speakeasy with: Amy Purdy

Paralympic medalist and DWTS finalist takes center stage on Oprah's national tour

At age 19 Amy Purdy’s only ambition was to become a massage therapist so she could fund her snowboarding excursions. When Purdy thought she had come down with a bad case of the flu, she soon learned it was meningitis that quickly caused the loss of her kidneys, spleen, and the amputation of both lower legs. After years of rehabilitation, her tenacity and love of snowboarding got her back in the sport she loves and ultimately winning the bronze in this year’s Paralympic Games in Sochi. Recently Purdy became a fan favorite when she amazing the judges with nearly flawless dances to place her as a finalist in last season’s Dancing With The Stars.

Team Toyota athlete Amy Purdy will share her story in detail and her unique words of wisdom as part of Oprah's "The Life You Want Weekend" tour that lands in Atlanta, September 5-6 at Philips Arena. In a phone interview, Creative Loafing asked Purdy about coping, her stint on Dancing With The Stars and working with Oprah.

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At such a young age, how did you find the courage to move forward and cope with such a tragedy?

Even though I was losing my legs, I kept saying, “Am I going to be able to snowboard again, how am I going to be able to snowboard again?” It helped me think creatively and gave me something to look forward to and work towards.

I was inspired that you couldn’t find an appendage to snowboard like you wanted so you created your own. Is that a challenge others face as well?

A lot of money and energy has gone into making prosthetics as high tech and responsive as possible, but there’s nothing compared to the dynamics of the human foot. New amputees and wounded vets who come back who are used to performing at such a high level are dealing with a prosthetic they heard was “high tech” learn its just hardware. But its amazing what we are able to do with them.

On Dancing With The Stars, I danced in the most low-tech feet out there, I danced in feet that were foam and wood and had zero ankle mechanics or movement because I learned I could control them better than a high-tech foot.

Speaking of Dancing With The Stars, what is the process of creating your feet for the performances?

When I went into Dancing With The Stars I had no idea if I would be able to do this or not. To be able to ballroom dance, aesthetics is so important. There are so many shapes to your legs that you need to have. For example with an Argentine tango you need to have these beautiful leg lines to point your toes. My everyday walking feet don’t allow me to do that. But knowing what the particular shape or look of the leg line I needed, I started thinking what is out there that I’ve seen before that I could potentially use. I remembered there were these swimming feet that are pointed to wear flippers, and I thought: has anyone tried just standing on those outside of the water? So the company sent a pair to me overnight, and right away Derek and I realized how gorgeous they were - they created this perfect line. I was balancing on maybe an inch by a quarter inch, that is less than what a ballerina would. The other times referring to dances, especially for Latin dances, I needed to move my hips more, so I had to use these other foam feet without shoes. They allowed me to have a pretty line and move the way my body needed to.

When someone has an obstacle, what advice do you give them?

I get that a lot. I'm always trying to find the right thing to say. It probably sound cliché but no matter how hard things get, don’t give up. For me, I didn’t worry about walking again. I focused on how can I snowboard again, and walking just came with that. So it kept me excited. Obstacles can either stop you in your tracks or force you get creative. For me it forced me to get creative. Whether it was snowboarding or Dancing With the Stars we ran into so many roadblocks where the majority of people would say, "Oh no, I can’'t do this." Instead of that being a barrier, I felt there had to be a way, so we tried all different types of feet and moved them in all different types of ways. It’s a matter of being passionate about it and putting in the hard work to figure it out.

What is it like to be an Oprah ambassador?

I'm excited to be part of the Oprah's "The Life You Want Weekend" tour. I’ve looked up to Oprah the majority my life, but specifically at the hardest time of my life when I lost my legs to meningitis. And can you imagine having the worst flu of your life after I left the hospital. I had a lot of time to recover and I watched Oprah every single day and she and her guest were my inspiration to keep moving forward. So now to actually be working with Oprah and sharing the stage with her I feel like my life has come full circle.

So what is the next chapter in your life?

I wrote a book in six weeks, it's a memoir and its yet untitled, and obviously this tour which is amazing. I have a clothing line coming out next fall and a handful of other TV projects that are in the works.

Do you know how to do the 'Wobble?'

No, I've never heard of it …

… Er'body in Atlanta does the Wobble.

Oh wow, I'll have to look that up!

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