Keynote Amy Purdy Uses Creativity to Succeed with Prosthetics

May 29, 2015 by JordanG

When we interviewed our 2015 Johnson & Johnson Keynote Speaker Amy Purdy for the June NATA News, we had an in-depth discussion with her about the various prosthetics she uses for her active lifestyle, which ranges from professional snowboarding to her successful stint on "Dancing with the Stars." She talked to us about the limitations of most prosthetics and how she teamed with her prosthetist to come up with creative solutions for her needs.
Walking, Running and Weightlifting
The majority of prosthetics on the market are made for just getting you up on your feet and walking. When you want to take it to the next level or pursue sports or something more dynamic, there are some specialty prosthetics on the market. For example, I have a pair of running legs. Those are needed because the human foot is so dynamic. You can stand still, bend your knees and jump. They say you put 100 percent energy into human legs and you get about 300 percent back. If I were to try to stand there and jump with my walking legs, if I put 100 percent into my feet, I’d probably get about 40 percent back. They just aren’t dynamic like the human foot.
So, I have running legs. I have a new leg I’ve been working with from a friend who built it in his garage. It’s so cool; it has a shock in it. For the first time I’m able to do overhead squats where I put a barbell behind my shoulders and literally bend my knees and squat down to the floor and come back up and keep my feet flat on the floor. That foot is the only foot on the market that’s allowing us to do that because it’s got this shock where you can set the rebound, so you can collapse your leg down and then it slowly rebounds back up.
I end up doing a lot of stuff just with my walking legs because, at this point, I’ve just adapted to them. I’ll go mountain biking and hiking in just my everyday walking legs. 
For snowboarding, I wear a different foot on the front. It’s a very basic foot, but it has this bumper in the ankle that allows me to have a little more ankle flexion and movement before the foot itself engages, and that allows me to be a little bit more dynamic when snowboarding. And then on the back foot, I’m wearing this Biodapt Versa foot, which really allows me to dig my toe into the ground when I’m trying to run a toe-edge, and so they work together. It’s all just taken trial and error to figure it out. There aren’t any feet on the market made for snowboarding.

Dancing is very, very challenging and dynamic. So when I did "Dancing with the Stars," every week we did a different type of dance. All of them require different types of foot actions… Every week we had to go back to the drawing board and figure out with what is on the market, what’s going to give me the best ability to accomplish this movement we’re going for, this aesthetic were going for. So I had to get really creative.
I ended up dancing the majority of the time in foam and wood feet. They’re not very dynamic at all. Instead of being high-tech, they are extremely low-tech. I felt that the more low-tech and less responsive they were, the more I could control my legs to do what I wanted them to do.

I have a prosthetist. The prosthetic shop makes and builds my legs. When it came to DWTS, it really was Derek [Hough], my partner, and I coming up with the feet we needed to use [each week]… [We would call] my prosthetic shop and discuss what we were dealing with, and my prosthetist would come up with different ideas. We’d basically just brainstorm. Derek and I would even go online, and I would show him different feet. It was just a matter of trial and error the entire time.
I’m so blessed to have resources. I was able to call these companies and say, “I’m on DWTS and I’d like to use your foot.” They would work with my prosthetic shop and they would make sure I got those feet.
For the Argentine tango, I actually used swimming feet because it allowed me to have this really pretty pointed toe.

It was really interesting every week bringing new technology to the show. We brought it to the show out of necessity, but it ended up being really cool. I have a lot of fans who come up to me and say that it was so cool to see the different legs I had each week and how they did different things. It was just a great platform to be able to show the different equipment that’s out there.
Make sure to join us for Amy’s keynote presentation at 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 25, at the Americas Center in St. Louis!

Posted by NATA Communications Manager Jordan Grantham (
Photo credit: Element Eden; The Amy Purdy Collection