On My Own Two Feet
Amy Purdy was 19 when she lost her both her legs to bacterial meningitis. As she lay in a hospital bed, doctors gave her less than a two percent chance of survival—and even if she lived, few believed she’d walk again. Despite the prognosis, Amy beat the odds in a miraculous recovery. She then seized her second chance at life by earning an Olympic bronze in snowboarding, and later, on two prosthetic legs, she wowed the nation with her performance on “Dancing With the Stars.”
NYT BEST SELLER | WILLIAM MORROW | DECEMBER 2014
In her memoir, Amy shares the intimate details of her comeback from the brink of death to making history as a Paralympic snowboarder. This excerpt from the book’s epilogue is Amy’s final reflection.
My path has led me to the perfect place. I truly believe that I’m standing exactly where I should be at this juncture. Every step of my journey, even the most heartrending ones, was meant to happen. Each person I’ve connected with has come into my life for a reason. There are no coincidences. No mistakes. No accidents. There are only learning experiences that can be used as powerful lessons in moving forward.
I’m not suggesting that we should somehow celebrate crisis. Life often brings tremendous sorrow, tragedy and loss. As we should, we weep. We feel overwhelmed. We raise our voices and our fists in complete agony. We bow our heads and wish so badly that the blow could be softened. I have lived through that kind of devastation. I once reckoned with the fear that I’d not only lose my legs, but possibly my life.
My legs haven’t disabled me, they’ve enabled me. They’ve planted my feet on the spiritual path I was meant to walk. They’ve forced me to get creative. They’ve taught me that when I fall down, I can either lay there and wallow in my misstep, or I can use the experience as fuel for growth.
Yet once the initial intensity of that anguish has lessened—once days have settled into months, and months have thrust us squarely in the face of a new reality—we always have a choice. Our lives are not determined by what happens to us, but by how we respond to what happens to us. We can either see our circumstances as a set of random cruelties and then allow those hardships to turn us into bitter victims. Or we can recognize that, though we may never comprehend why hard things happen, they do, and when they do, we can reach for a larger purpose beyond the pain. After surviving the loss of my legs and full kidney failure, that is what I have chosen to do.
While I was in the spleen surgery, Dr. Abby whispered a sentence to me that I will always remember: “Whatever you believe in, Amy, think about that now.” At the time, I couldn’t answer him because I was under such heavy anesthesia. But if a response were possible, I would’ve said this: “I believe in love.” Each of is energy. And whether or not we know it, we are constantly giving and receiving energy. That energy has the power to either harm or heal. Author Neale Donald Walsch once put it this way: “All human actions are motivated at their deepest level by two emotions—fear or love,” he wrote in Conversations With God. “In truth, there are only two emotions, only two words in the language of the soul. Fear wraps our bodies in clothing. Love allows us to stand naked…Fear attacks. Love amends.”
I’ve come to realize that my larger purpose—that persistent whisper that has compelled me toward “something more” for most of my life—is really about sharing love with others. The stage from which I can extend that positive energy has gotten bigger as my dreams have evolved. But I don’t need a grand stage from which to offer love. None of us does. In the smallest interactions—a kind word to a friend, a smile to a passerby, a gesture of compassion to even a stranger—we have many opportunities to care for one another.
Love comes in various forms. In fact, the word love is so layered that the Greeks created multiple words to distinguish its types. Among the many, there’s eros (a passionate, romantic, and deeply emotional love); philos (the fondness and loyalty we usually feel for friends and family); and agape (a spiritual, selfless love we can offer humankind). I have experienced all three.
Love is the only thing that will make sense in the end. That’s not only true for me, it’s true for every person on earth. Life isn’t about what we have or don’t have. It’s about the love we’re willing to give to one another when the opportunity presents itself.
When it comes to romantic love, what Daniel and I have shared is so much more meaningful to me than the superficial, roses-and-chocolate version of love that our culture often highlights. We’ve had major ups and downs, even moreso than what I’ve included in these pages. I don’t know what the future holds, or whether we’re meant to stay together. Yet through more than a decade of ups and downs and re-connecting, we’ve developed a genuine love, a deep respect, and a full acceptance of one another. Whatever happens in our relationship, I know those things will last.
Literally every day, I whisper a prayer of thanks to my mom, my dad, Crystal, and every friend and family member who has stood by me; philos is almost too small of a word to express my overwhelming gratitude for their support. Philos is also the sort of love I’ve had with Derek Hough, my dancing partner. During our time together on the show, I was inspired by his boundless artistic expression. His incredible work ethic and passion. And his ability to transform a seemingly disconnected set of steps into a brilliant masterpiece. Just being around him made me want to stretch myself. Derek’s very existence is evidence that we’re all capable of more than we can conceive.
Agape love—that’s the unconditional love for others that I aspire to daily. It’s not just a form of sharing; it’s a way of being. Our lives come down to offering as much love as we can to the people around us, whether that love comes in the form of agape, or any of the others. Love, and my desire to express and experience it, is why I believe I was given a second chance. In my view, love is the only thing that will for sure make sense in the end. That’s not only true for me—it’s true for every person on the earth. Life isn’t about what we have or don’t have. It’s about the love we’re willing to give whenever the opportunity presents itself.
I’ve also discovered a fourth kind of love—the love for life itself and the passion we bring to everything we do. You could call this the love of inspiration and creativity. It’s that profound sense of connection we feel when we completely give ourselves over to a project, a goal, a calling. When we immerse ourselves in this way, what we produce literally creates the world around us. This is the love the has lit my path. It has motivated me to keep striving. Changing. Giving. Growing. And pushing myself to do better in both big ways and small.
Every human being is a walking, talking, breathing set of lessons, and my lessons have been plentiful. I’ve learned the importance of building and sustaining dreams—of visualizing myself in the next chapter of my adventure even as I enjoy the one I’m in. I was born a dreamer; you may have been as well. But as the pressures of our world overwhelm us, those stresses often eclipse our vision of what’s possible. Time and again, I’ve had to renew my vision. Re-affix my gaze on the potential for the miraculous. Seek out new ways to turn the mundane into the magical. That takes practice, and I’ve had plenty of it. A vision is a seed. When that seed receives the water of consistent effort, our lives can begin to blossom.
Anything is possible. We hear that sentence a lot, but in my life, those aren’t just words. They are a daily reality. Life has taught me that if you’re willing to work hard, you can rise above some of the most bleak situations. And even when a circumstance can’t be changed, we can alter our perception of it.
Over the last two decades, I’ve endured some serious setbacks, and I’m not just here, I’m thriving. The challenges, the obstacles, the so-called barriers—they’ve all become the stepping stones I’ve used to carry on toward my goals. My biggest struggles have led to my biggest accomplishments. And no matter how bad things have gotten, I’ve continued to find a way forward, and I am absolutely convinced that you can do the same. I don’t possess some kind of special power that sets me apart from humanity. We were all born with the potential for greatness.
Since “Dancing With the Stars” aired, people often come up to me and say, “You are so inspiring.” I always thank them for their kindness, but the truth is that I didn’t go on the show or do anything else in my life with the sole intention of being inspiring. I’m just living out my passion. When we see others doing what they were meant to do, we are inspired to do the same. It’s contagious. And the very fact that we can recognize and be inspired by that passion is a sign that we also possess it.
My legs haven’t disabled me. If anything, they’ve enabled me. They’ve planted my feet on the spiritual path I was meant to walk. They’ve forced me to get creative. They’ve taught me that when I fall down, I can either lay there and wallow in my misstep, or I can use the experience as fuel for growth. I may have lost the legs of flesh and bone that I was born with, but these legs made of carbon fiber and steel have taken me to amazing places. And though my journey has looked pretty different than the one I thought I’d take, I’ve still done exactly what I set out to do. I’ve snowboarded. I’ve traveled. I’ve even cha cha’d, quickstepped, and tangoed. And along the way, I’ve shared my life with some amazing people. So I still got to my dreams. I just took a different route.
The question I first asked myself back in 1999 is the one I’m still asking: “If my life were a book, and I was the author, how would I want my story to go?” Each morning, I wake up grateful for another chance to add a page to my adventure. If the life I’ve already been blessed with is a sign of what’s to come, then there will be many more fascinating chapters. One day at a time—one dream at a time—I’m still busy writing.
Excerpted from the memoir entitled On My Own Two Feet: From Losing My Legs to Learning the Dance of Life. Published by William Morrow. Hardcover edition released on December 30, 2014.