Amy Burnett will try anything at least once. Because of this open-minded attitude, the 44-year-old is now a member of the U.S. Para-Badminton team, spokesmodel for Permobil and a runway model with Fashion is for Every Body.
Burnett found herself stuck in a nursing home two years after her spinal cord injury when surgery to remove a cyst resulted in complications and a second surgery. This was 1999 and she didn’t even have a phone or TV to pass the time.
“It was extremely lonely,” she says. She told herself if she could get through this hardship then she’d know she can get through anything. And when she did get through it, she made a vow to never limit herself in anything she did. Since then, her “I’ll try anything once” mantra has made for some incredible opportunities.
“I want to try everything, see everything and do everything,” she says. “I’m not going to let my disability limit me and I don’t want the rest of the world to see us as limited because we use wheelchairs.”
While watching badminton during the Rio Olympics in 2016, she remembered how much fun she had playing the sport in gym class before her injury. So she simply called the World Badminton Federation to ask if there was a para version. This led to her attending an open-training camp in Arizona where, after demonstrating that she could hit a birdie, she was invited to become a member of the U.S. Para- Badminton team, joining a roster that included amputees and players with short stature.
“I’m the only person in the United States who plays badminton from a wheelchair currently, and I’m the very first person who uses a wheelchair ever on the team,” she says.
To be fair, it’s not like she never played a sport before. She did taekwondo before her injury, played wheelchair basketball in rehab and still coaches wheelchair tennis. And her ability to put herself forward isn’t just limited to sports — it’s also how she became a spokesmodel for Permobil.
She says Permobil recognized how valuable her interpersonal skills are for the community and how she wouldn’t mind going over to somebody and saying, “There’s something wrong with how you sit in your chair.”
Her work with Permobil got her noticed by Fashion is for Every Body — a nonprofit dedicated to showcasing models of all shapes, sizes, skin tones and abilities as a way of promoting self-esteem, inclusion and body-positivity within the fashion industry. “I thought, well, I’ll represent my group as well as I can,” she says. “I just love the all-inclusivity of it and how it’s actually called Fashion is for Every Body, which is every body type, I guess.”
Today she receives offers to model clothes for designers, while still travelling the world with Team USA. “Life has taken many twists and many turns, but through my faith, I just believed there were better things for me than wasting away in a nursing home bed,” she says.
Focused on Family
One of Burnett’s favorite things is mentoring people with disabilities through sport. Thanks to one of the signature events of the United Spinal Association chapter in Tennessee, she gets to do it every year.
“This will be our third year hosting Camp United. It’s an all-types-of-sports-day for people with any spinal cord disorder. We want people to bring their friends, family and anyone who has anything to do with them. We get them all participating. Instead of just saying, ‘Hey, you, with the disability! You get to try this sport and have a great time, but your family has to watch,’ we say, ‘We want your family to come and have fun with you, whether you’re trying out a kayak or a sail boat, or a sports chair to play badminton or whatever.’ I’ve enjoyed being involved with the event and think the family focus really sets it apart. It’s a nice way of saying, ‘We know you have a family, let them all come.’”
Can’t Live Without:
Without sitting on a ROHO cushion, I couldn’t go anywhere and I couldn’t travel. People are like, “But you ride rollercoasters.” Yeah, I sit on my ROHO when I’m riding them.
Why I Joined United Spinal:
I broke both my legs in 2017, and I have both state and federal insurance. But if you leave the state you reside in, they won’t cover you, so without extra insurance I thought, wow, I live in the United States of America, but sometimes it doesn’t feel so united.