Amy Purdy to Women’s Conference: Don’t just overcome your obstacles, use them

While other contestants on “Dancing with the Stars” were picking out what shoes to wear, Amy Purdy was debating what feet to wear.

America got a glimpse of her limitless ambition when she competed on the TV show in 2014, reaching second place with no dancing experience – or legs.

Purdy realized the prosthetic “everyday walking feet” she was used to weren’t enough for the dancing competition, so she improvised.

When she wanted to point her toes, she wore prosthetic feet meant for swimming. When she had to perform the quick-step, she wore black, curved running blades – and never missed a beat.

“Basically, each and every week we were faced with a problem to solve,” she said. “But my legs haven’t disabled me. If anything, they enabled me, and have forced me to rely on my imagination and believe in the impossible.”

Purdy delivered that message as the keynote speaker to 3,500 attending the 30th annual Central California Women’s Conference in Fresno on Tuesday.

Purdy was an active snowboarder who at age 19 came down with what she thought was the flu, and woke up on life support to find out both of her legs were to be amputated.

Diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, Purdy lost her spleen and kidney function, hearing in one ear, and, because of septic shock, both of her legs below the knees.

“At the age of 19, I almost died, and when I didn’t, I decided right then and there that I was going to live my best life possible – that I wasn’t going to limit myself,” she said. “I was going to be everything that I was put on this earth to be.”

In addition to competing in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games (she won a bronze medal in the snowboard cross event) and on the popular dance show, she wrote a best-selling book about her life and went on a motivational speaking tour with her idol, Oprah Winfrey.

She also created Adaptive Action Sports in 2005, a nonprofit that helps young people with permanent disabilities get involved in action sports like snowboarding and skateboarding.

“Maybe instead of looking at all of our challenges and obstacles as something negative or bad, maybe we can begin to look at them as blessings,” Purdy said. “It’s not about overcoming them, it’s about using them. It’s about pushing off of them and seeing what amazing places they might bring us.”

Purdy received a standing ovation at the Fresno Convention Center, and provided some comic relief when sharing her life story – telling of the time she shocked fellow skiers when her prosthetic legs went down the slopes without her, still attached to her snowboard, and about the benefits of prosthetic legs.

“I could be as tall or as short as I wanted to be, depending on who I was dating at the time,” she said. “I could snowboard and my feet wouldn’t get cold. You can focus on what you lost, or you can focus on what you have.”

Tuesday was the 30th anniversary of the event, which brings together Valley women and offers a slew of workshops providing everything from financial and cooking advice to leadership courses and volunteer opportunities.

Last year, renowned reporter Lisa Ling gave the keynote address.

The Bee and ABC30 are founding sponsors of the conference.

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays