At the age of 19, Amy Purdy lost her legs but found her fighting spirit.

Paralympic athlete Amy Purdy shares how creative inspiration turned a near-death experience into an opportunity to push herself further than she had ever dreamed.

Amy Purdy never planned on being a source of inspiration. As a 19-year-old girl fresh from high school, Purdy was an employed massage therapist who enjoyed recreational snowboarding. One day at work, she began experiencing flu-like symptoms so she left early and went home to rest. Little did she know how drastically life was about to change.

By the next day, her condition had worsened, so much so that she was rushed to the hospital. She was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, a vaccine-preventable disease.

There are a lot of vaccines out there that are available for diseases that wont necessarily kill you, Purdy said. But meningitis is a disease that has such a high fatality rate. I would say the meningitis vaccine should be at the top of the list of vaccines for parents to get their children.

As her condition continued to worsen, she was given less than a two percent chance of survival. Doctors were eventually forced to amputate both of her legs from the knee down due to loss of circulation from septic shock; she spent nearly three weeks in a coma. Emerging from this sudden trauma, Purdy refused to allow the circumstances to defeat her and made the conscious decision to continue to pursue her passions.

At the age of 19, you think you’re invincible, and you have no idea about the things that can happen, she said. It was hard to imagine what my life would be like without both my legs, but there’s definitely a strength you draw from. I had to grow up fast. One of the main things I focused on was what I was grateful for it allowed me to focus on what I had, rather than what I had lost. I kind of shifted focus onto the positive things in my life.

Finding creative inspiration

One of the first new challenges Purdy encountered was engaging with her new legs and feet. The options for prosthetics were limited. Purdy wanted to run, dress up and wear high-heels, dance and even snowboard again, yet each activity provided Purdy with a new set of obstacles to overcome.

It’s not easy being a girl and losing my legs, Purdy said. I felt very awkward. It’s easy to go to a very dark place if we let ourselves. I decided that I was just going to have to get creative.

Purdy worked with doctors, therapists and experts, and challenged herself to find imaginative solutions. Eventually, she had procured six pairs of custom legs and feet to suit her needs, including prosthetic legs and feet customized for everything from performance sports to high fashion. With the right tools for the job, Purdy was able to hit the slopes once again and pick up her lifelong passion of snowboarding.

In 2005, Purdy and her boyfriend, Daniel Gale, established the non-profit organization Adaptive Action Sports (AAS). AAS focuses on providing action sports programs for those with physical challenges. The Colorado-based organization has been instrumental in giving anyone with a disability the resources to get involved with skateboarding, snowboarding and other action sports.

Purdy’s ambition of growing others interest in action sports found new inspiration in 2012 when the Paralympic Games announced that they would be adding snowboarding to the 2014 Winter Paralympics, and that was all the motivation that she needed to push herself even further.

Snowboarding is something I’ve always had a passion for, but I really didn’t start competing in snowboarding until after I lost my legs, and I didn’t even feel like an athlete until a couple of years ago, Purdy said. Then I decided to focus on making it to Sochi, Russia.

Creating your best life

In order to reach her most ambitious goal yet, Purdy knew that she would have to continue to find inspiration from within.

Health is so important, she said. It’s really easy to make excuses, but I’m always trying to remind myself how good it feels when I actually sweat and get my adrenaline going.

Putting aside excuses, Purdy woke up each day, put on her prosthetics and worked out. Although her life had changed, she adapted, creating intense, modified cross-fit workouts to continue to challenge herself.

That dedication and perseverance helped her win the bronze in Snowboard Cross at the 2014 Winter Paralympics. Following her success with the U.S. Paralympic Team, Purdy was a contestant on season 18 of Dancing With The Stars, and she is currently on tour with Oprah Winfrey’s The Life You Want Weekend.

Even as her schedule has gotten busier, Purdy still finds time to pursue her dreams. She is currently working on debuting her clothing line, called The Amy Purdy Collection. She has also authored her first book, On My Own Two Feet–From Losing My Legs to Learning the Dance of Life, due out at the end of December.

Living inspired

Purdy takes time to make health a priority and appreciates that she has the opportunity to touch so many lives.

I didn’t set out 15 years ago to be inspirational to other people, Purdy stated. I live an inspired life when you live what inspires you, it doesn’t just affect you, but those around you. We have the power to do so much.

Life is full of challenges, but for Purdy, its how we address those challenges that define the ultimate outcome.

We are created with boundless potential, and the only way to discover it is to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. There aren’t certain people out there who are successful because they have more potential our biggest limitations are the ones we believe. If you believe in yourself, and you have a goal, get out there and do it.

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Jodi Marsh is Executive Editor for Healthy Living Made Simple.