KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – American snowboarder Amy Purdy had a strenuous routine in Sochi – on the mountain in the afternoon, then dancing at night.
For the effort, Purdy earned an Olympic bronze medal in the inaugural event at the Sochi Paralympics on Friday. Now she’s gearing up to win a sparkly mirror-ball trophy, making her debut as the first double-amputee to take part in ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
Professional dancer Derek Hough flew to Russia to perfect their ballroom bond, preparing for potentially several weeks of samba, tango and cha-cha-cha. On Monday, they’ll arrive at a Los Angeles television studio for more practice.
“It was really great to be able to dance, do something a little bit different and have something exciting beyond Sochi to look forward to,” said Purdy, who is from Colorado.
As Hough waited around Sochi in the morning – with stray dogs for company according to his Instagram feed – Purdy was on the slopes. She’d then take a gondola lift down to a hotel in the Alpine resort of Rosa Khutor to make she was as sure-footed and graceful waltzing across a dance floor as she was with a board on snow.
“It’s been a good distraction because we had a lot of down time here,” said Purdy, even if it meant little time for rest in Russia. “The energy came from adrenaline. Pure adrenaline.”
That came after years of pure determination. “Courageous and inspiring” is how Hough describes the 34-year-old Purdy.
She took up snowboarding at 15, contracted bacterial meningitis four years later and had her legs amputated just below the knee.
The impairment didn’t hold her back or stop dreams of sporting success for her and other physically challenged snowboarders. She co-founded Adaptive Action Sports with boyfriend Daniel Gale in 2005.
The Olympic medal came after years of pushing for the inclusion of snowboarding in the Paralympics.
“After meeting Amy and watching her struggle just finding resources to get back into the sport she loved – snowboarding – it seemed like it was something that needed to happen for her and everyone else,” Gale said amid the celebrations at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.
When Purdy completed her third and final run of the course, Gale rushed to drape an American flag around his girlfriend.
“So proud of you,” he said.
In an event where the two best times are combined, Purdy was 16.86 seconds behind Dutch winner Bibian Mentel-Spee, while Cecile Hernandez Ep Cervellon of France was second.
“The conditions here have been really challenging, it has been anything from ice to icy slush to just wet slush,” Purdy said in bright sunshine at a location that has seen little snow in recent weeks. “I wanted to play smart and I feel that’s what I did.”
With the high-profile dancing contest coming up, there was also the fear of injury.
“The course was so bumpy that it was just about staying on my feet,” Purdy said. “This course is really steep. It’s not a course where you are looking for speed. It’s a course where you are trying to figure out smart spots.”
Next week, she’ll be on a wooden dance floor under studio lights with millions watching on television.
American teammates are delighted a Paralympian will be in prime time.
“There is now that awareness she is bringing to the world,” said Mike Shea, who won silver in the men’s race. “And we couldn’t be happier for her.”
Purdy is hopeful such sporting feats gain more mainstream exposure following her “Dancing With the Stars” appearances.