Think you can’t relate to a 35-year-old Paralympian bronze medalist who literally battled death (Amy Purdy flatlined in the hospital after contracting bacterial meningitis, which ultimately cost her her legs), placed second on Dancing with the Stars, and went on a Live Your Life Tour with—wait for it—Oprah? Yeah, we weren’t so sure either. Until she shared these five secrets to her success. Turns out, you can totally get everything you want, too.
Discover what’s important to you. And forget about the rest. “That challenge [of losing my legs] forced me to dig deep to find my passion, to find my fire and to see what I was really made of,” says Purdy. While it would have been easy to give up on snowboarding—after all, it was only a hobby at the time—Amy decided hanging up her bindings wasn’t an option. So with nobody to look up to (she’s the only competitive snowboarder without both of her legs), Amy blocked out everyone who said “you can’t” and went after what she wanted. She continued to get better—so much so that, eventually, she turned pro. In other words, haters gonna hate but as long as you do you, that’s all that matters.
Set your goals. Whether they’re small, daily ones or a look at the big picture, clinging to goals can keep you on track when the obstacles to achieve them seem overwhelmingly large. “When I was going into the surgery where I was losing my legs…I was so scared. It was so hard for me to even wrap my mind around what my life was going to be like,” says Purdy. “As I was going into the operating room, I gave myself three goals. The first one was that I wasn’t going to feel sorry for myself, that I wasn’t a victim to this. The second was that when I figured this out, somehow I would go on to help other people. And the third one was that I was going to snowboard that year because I hadn’t missed a season and I wasn’t about to. For me, having those three goals put me in control when everything else in my life was out of control. It gave me something to hold on to.” The lesson here: Once you know exactly what you want, repeat it to yourself regularly so you have a reminder when days get dark.
Get creative. According to Purdy, challenges can do one of two things: Stop you in your tracks, or force you to think outside the box. The latter option is usually the successful one. “I found that I’ve always wanted to find a way—whether it was motivational speaking, dancing, or learning to snowboard again—I wanted to figure out how I could do it the best that I could do it,” she says. “And in a way, that’s exciting. It’s very easy to sit back and say, ‘Oh, this is hard. I can’t do it.’ Or, you can look at it with a different perspective and realize, ‘Okay, this is an opportunity.’ That kept me moving forward.” So as the old saying goes, if one thing doesn’t work, try, try again. Eventually, something will.
Embrace the dark moments. Let’s get real: Nobody is happy all the time (if they are, we want to know that secret), and pretending to be isn’t going to get you anywhere. “I certainly hit those moments where I am not okay, I am frustrated, I don’t know if it’s possible,” says Purdy. “To tell you the truth, I allow myself to go there. I allow myself to go there long enough to get it out of my system and then usually I am that much more motivated to come back and figure out a way out of it.” Consider that your permission to throw a private tantrum or pity party—so long as you snap out of it, pronto.
Opt not to stop. When terrible things happen in life, it’s really easy to sink into a “woe is me” mind-set or to hide from your problems. But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean you need to do it, says Purdy. In her new memoir, On My Own Two Feet, Purdy tells the story of what she experienced while flatlining in the hospital—a choice that didn’t come easy. “I basically died and went to the other side. I had a choice to make and I chose to stay,” she says. “I was nervous [writing] about that because I hate labels and even labeling it as a near-death experience, I thought that may turn off people who do not believe that there is anything on the other side. I didn’t know how people were going to embrace that story.” But that didn’t hold her back. “At this point in my life, I’ve learned that it’s all a choice. It really is,” she says. “It’s a choice on what’s going to stop us and what’s not going to stop us and we all have that choice every single day.” So, choose wisely.
And in case you need an extra kick in the pants, here are a few of Amy Purdy’s biggest motivators:
Favorite quote: All of her favorites start the chapters of On My Own Two Feet, but two by Helen Keller have had a lasting impact. The first: “‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” “I actually have a tattoo of that on my back,” she says. The second: “A bend in the road isn’t the end of the road, unless you fail to make the turn.” “That quote goes through my head quite a bit.”
In-the-zone song: “Madness,” by Muse. “I listened to that one in Sochi, right before going into the start gates,” she says. “You have to try to control your adrenaline; if I was listening to really hyped-up music leading into the race, then you lose all of it. So I was trying to keep myself chill until like a minute before and this was my go-to.”
Inspirational movie: Unbroken. “I am fascinated with all that [Louis Zamperini] went through, and I keep that in my mind,” says Purdy. “If this guy can deal with that—here we complain about the little things, like it being cold outside, and this guy was on a raft for 50 days—it puts it into perspective. I think that is what fuels us to move forward in our lives.”
Admirable friend: Derek Hough, Purdy’s partner on DWTS. “I was so inspired working with Derek because of how passionate he is,” she says. “He just lives life so full and throws himself into his passions.”