Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? I am not one of these people. Hear me out. Some things may happen for a reason, but certainly not everything. Sometimes we're a victim of circumstances beyond our control. Maybe we're just in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are probably a billion explanations.
I consider myself a spiritual person and I am also someone who believes that there is a creator and designer of the universe who is mindful of our existence. I've had my share of little miracles that can't otherwise be explained. That said, I don't believe the tragedies of violence or pain and suffering that we endure during our life all happen for a reason. The random arbitrary bouts of adversity we face, whether emotional or physical, are certainly not some karmic punishment or lesson to learn from past or present behavior. Don't get me wrong, I do believe it's possible to suffer, be miserable, or face consequences at the expense of our own bad decisions. I've had plenty of those moments.
But the thing I've come to terms with is that fact that life is full of challenges and no one is exempt from them. It's part of the package deal of being human. So instead of being surprised or disappointed when we get (metaphorically) punched in the mouth, I think it's key to learn how to get back up and keep fighting.
The good news is that we have the opportunity to choose how we react when adversity or prosperity comes our way. In my experience, both success and failure are temporary situations, and I would even argue that there really isn't any such thing as failure if we can learn from our experiences. There are many things we cannot control, but we still have the power to react and reframe what happened after our experience. Adversity can either kick our ass or, as Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, famously said: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Rising up from being significantly knocked down and almost out was the case for the inspiring Amy Purdy, in the year she almost lost her life.
As a young child, Purdy was fascinated by the universe. She tells me she would look up into the night sky and try to piece together how it all worked. "When I was young, I wanted to be an astronomer," she says. "I was fascinated with space. I was fascinated with the unknown. I couldn't understand how there wasn't an edge or an ending to the universe. How it just went on forever and ever. So, I think I really loved the mysteries of life."
Purdy was born and raised in Las Vegas and had a close relationship with her family. She was born into a family of entrepreneurs and always felt comfortable working for herself and earning her way. Purdy says her family was never truly enmeshed in athletics, but they were very outdoorsy. Her father built their family home outside of the city limits, where they could drive to ski in the local mountain areas outside of town. Purdy said she never felt like she was very good at skiing, but during her teenage years, a crush on a boy she knew resulted in her taking a snowboarding trip, and she took up the sport easily.
"I fell in love with snowboarding at the age of 15," she says. "I was introduced to it by some friends. They invited me on a snowboarding trip, and I went, and I picked it up really quick. My motivation was I was the only girl, and I was hanging out with all these guys and they didn't teach me anything. They just said, 'Alright, you're gonna strap in and you're gonna follow us,' and that's basically what I did. I picked it up like that. The motivation that you get from having to keep up -- and also having a crush on the guys, that helped. So, I picked it up and just fell in love with it."
After high school, Purdy relocated for a short time to Salt Lake City, where she planned to work as a massage therapist and snowboard as often as she could. Eventually, she was offered a massage therapy job back home in Las Vegas, working at world-class spa Canyon Ranch.
When she was 19, one of the mysteries of the universe inserted itself directly into her life. It was a normal day at work for Purdy when she noticed she was feeling run down and tired. She sent herself home early, thinking she had the flu. Her family was about to leave on a vacation, and she insisted they go without her, saying she must have a 24-hour bug and would rest a couple of days and catch up with them later.
Purdy said she initially had a fever spike, but that her temperature went down overnight, so she figured she was improving. Right around the time her family left town, she began to feel worse. She said she was more exhausted than she'd ever been, and that after checking in with her family, who were on the road by that time, she fell into one of the deepest sleeps she'd ever experienced and could barely open her eyes as she was drifting off.
What Purdy didn't know was that she didn't have the flu at all. She had somehow contracted meningococcal meningitis, which is a form of bacterial meningitis. The disease wreaked havoc on her circulatory system and she went into septic shock. Purdy would have died in her sleep were it not for a moment that she describes as a miracle.
"I fell into the deepest sleep I've ever felt and then suddenly I heard a voice say, 'Amy, get up and look in the mirror!'" she says. "And this voice was so startling that I immediately opened my eyes. I didn't see anybody there, but as I was kind of sitting up, I started to realize that something was really wrong. My heart was beating out of my chest, I was weak, I was shaky, I was so sick.... It took about five minutes to get into a seated position, and I put my feet on the floor, and I stood up, and I realized that I couldn't feel my feet. And when I looked to the floor, I saw that my feet were purple, and then I saw my hands were purple, and I looked at my reflection in the mirror and my nose, my chin, and my cheeks were purple as well. And so, it hit me in that moment that I was dying."
Luckily for Purdy, her cousin -- urged by her concerned mother -- showed up at that time to check on her and, noticing the discoloration of her limbs, took her immediately to the hospital.
What followed was an experience that can only be described as descending into the depths of hell. Purdy's organs failed, her lungs collapsed, her veins collapsed, and she was placed on life support. She was placed in a medically induced coma, and then later slipped into a coma by herself. Doctors gave her a 2 percent chance of survival, but Purdy wasn't about to be counted out just yet.
"I fought for my life for about two and a half months in the hospital," she says. "Full organ failure. All my organs failed or hemorrhaged except for my heart and my brain."
Purdy says during this time there were multiple close calls where her doctors and her parents thought she was dying, but she hung on by a thread each time. She says there were numerous occasions where doctors had to shock her heart back into rhythm, but eventually, after almost two weeks, she woke up.
By this time, Purdy had lost hearing in her left ear, both kidneys, and her spleen, and both legs had been amputated from the knee down. It would have been more than understandable for her to have woken up horrified and not wanting to live anymore, but Purdy says that's not what happened.
"I felt so grateful to be alive when I learned all that I had been through," she says. "When I realized what had happened and just how lucky I was to survive...my body fought for me when I wasn't even aware. When I wasn't even controlling it. I thought that was amazing. The level of gratitude I had to be alive when I was this close to dying, that's what initially got me through those tough days and made me grateful like, well, OK, I've just got to kind of pick up the pieces and move on from here."
Picking up the pieces is exactly what she did. Purdy left this experience forever changed, and has since created an incredible brand and prolific career for herself. Just seven months after she received her prosthetic legs, she began snowboarding again. She also finished third in a snowboarding competition in Mammoth, California, less than a year after her legs were amputated. She then received a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) which enabled her to compete in numerous snowboarding competitions across the U.S.
Purdy has worked with prosthetic foot manufacturer Freedom Innovations as its amputee advocate. She has also co-founded her own nonprofit, called Adaptive Action Sports, which helps individuals with physical disabilities who would like to be involved in active sports like surfing, skateboarding, or snowboarding. Purdy fought hard to have snowboarding included in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, and she finished third in the snowboarding-cross event.
In addition to having won both bronze and silver medals in snowboarding in the Paralympics, Purdy has acted (notably in a Madonna music video), modeled, and worked as a motivational speaker, clothing designer, author, and, most recently, podcaster. It's truly remarkable to speak with someone who has been through so much and who continues to maintain her attitude of gratitude. In many ways, she still has that child-like wonder with the universe. Looking up, marveling at how it all works, fascinated with the unknown.
"You don't know how you're going to handle a situation like that," she says. "If someone had told me, 'At the age of 19 you're losing your kidneys, your legs, your hearing in your left ear -- your life is going to change for ever,' I would have said, 'There's no way I can handle that.' But then it happened, and you find strength. You find that you're not only much more capable than you ever realized but there's a lot to live for. You know your happiness is not in these physical things. I think your happiness is in the things that you do and in the act of problem solving and figuring out a way. I think that really became my mission."