Disabled athletes adapt
Ryan Summerlin September 5, 2009
Like many South Shore residents, Daniel Gale and Amy Purdy moved to Lake Tahoe to be close to the extreme sports they love.
But unlike most, the pair had a larger goal in mind: Bringing those same sports back into the lives of people who have been sidelined by permanent disabilities.
It’s a cause especially close to Purdy’s heart.
Ten years ago, when the Las Vegas native was 19, what she thought was the flu turned into a medical nightmare.
After a day of feeling sick, Purdy’s condition deteriorated and she was rushed to the hospital in septic shock. She experienced multiple organ failures and doctors were forced to remove her spleen.
Purdy was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, was in a coma for almost three weeks and nearly died.
Although she would eventually recover with the help of a kidney transplant from her father, doctors had to amputate both Purdy’s legs below her knees because of complications that limited circulation to her legs.
But talking to Purdy these days, the memories of those medical problems get lost in the whirlwind that has been her life following her challenging recovery.
Among the highlights of her post-recovery life are the Amy Purdy signature skateboard that Element Skateboards recently produced, her appearance in a Madonna music video, the photo shoot for Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx where she was fitted with prosthetics resembling ice picks and her role in a critically acclaimed independent film.
But it’s clear Purdy’s passion is Adaptive Action Sports, the non-profit organization she started with Gale, 33, in San Diego in 2005.
The organization – which the couple moved to South Lake Tahoe two years ago – originated from a seemingly straightforward desire of Purdy’s.
“My goal was just to get back on a snowboard again,” Purdy said.
A competitive snowboarder before her medical battles, Purdy quickly found that – while there were resources for disabled athletes interested in more traditional sports like running and cycling – the resources for disabled athletes interested in sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, wakeboarding, rock climbing and motocross weren’t available. There wasn’t even an online forum for people in situations similar to Purdy’s to come together and talk about the sports they loved, she lamented.
And so, after meeting Gale in Crested Butte, Colo., the pair decided it was time to change that lack of resources. They got some help from a seemingly innocuous source: a “basic, $15” start your own non-profit organization class in San Diego, Gale says.
After that, Gale and Purdy formed Adaptive Action Sports and created a Web site for their organization.
“It just grew from there,” Gale said.
Since its inception, Adaptive Action Sports has organized numerous camps for disabled athletes pursuing action sports, taken its skate team on tour and been recruited to organize the X Games Adaptive Moto X event during the past two years. The motocross event has moved from exhibition to full-fledged competition in that time and received heightened attention when it was televised live during this past year’s event.
They’ve also made headway toward a global goal of getting adaptive snowboarding into the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
A big first step toward achieving that goal came in April 2008, when Adaptive Action Sports partnered with the United States of America Snowboard Association to host the first Adaptive Snowboard World Championships at Copper Mountain, Colo. Competitors from the U.S., New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands competed in a boardercross event where groups of snowboarders race simultaneously down a course to achieve the fastest time.
“That was kind of our first step to showing the Olympic Committee that there is a group of people competing at this level,” Purdy said.
Although Gale and Purdy’s future in South Lake Tahoe is uncertain, the pair said they also hope to organize a boardercross or half-pipe camp in the Tahoe area for disabled athletes.
As for Purdy’s original goal of getting back on a snowboard again?
“I would say I’m riding at the same level when I had my legs,” Purdy said. “If you were to see me snowboard, you would have no idea.”
For more on Adaptive Action Sports, visit www.adacs.org.