Epic Victory: Paralympic Games Record Breaker, Aimee Mullins was born without fibular bones. After birth, her doctor gave her limited potential for her life; telling her parents that the prognosis would be that she would never walk and never have the quality of life as other children. When she was one year old, both of her legs were amputated below her knees. The doctor who delivered her, saved every newspaper clipping of every victory she had and was using it in his classes at Hahnemann Medical School and Hershey Medical School where he taught. His course educated medical students on the potential of the human will; he dubbed it the “x” factor. He met Mullins later in her life and shared his change in thinking. She said that he realized that there is a difference between the medical condition and what one can do with it, if left to their own devices, a child will succeed despite their challenges.
Here is the story:
Aimee Mullins, has given numerous speeches on overcoming adversity; though is best known for her achievements in sports. Growing up she aspired for normalcy and is not so sure now if she would exchange her legs for normal ones, if given the option. Her shift in thinking came when she realized that doors have opened and had experiences she wouldn’t have had otherwise, because of her limitations. Mullins believes that if you open the door for someone in a curial moment, than you educate them, by teaching them to open doors for themselves. She says, “I think the only true disability is a crushed spirit, a spirit that’s been crushed, doesn’t have hope, doesn’t see beauty, it no longer has our natural childlike curiosity and our innate ability to imagine,” she continues, “if instead we can bolster a human spirit to keep hope, to see beauty in themselves and others, to be curious and imaginative then we are truly using our power well.” She believes that when a spirit has those qualities, than we are able to create new realities.
Mullins is a passionate advocate for next generation thinking about prosthetic’s. She is out to redefine the word “disabled”. According to Mullins, “There’s an important difference and distinction between the objective medical fact of my being an amputee and the subjective societal opinion of whether or not I’m disabled. Truthfully, the only real and consistent disability I’ve had to confront is the world ever thinking that I could be described by those definitions.” Many expressions of the word “disabled” focus on the individual rather than on the functional limitation. The dictionary might put incapable next to the world disabled, but Mullins is redefining the term as strong and capable. Her numerous achievements in athletics shows she is anything but incapable.
After reading the list of thesaurus terms for the word disabled, she had to stop after the word “mangled”. The emotion of the words inflicted pain as she read them and she sat motionless from the assault. She realized that if she knew of the way the world defined her as a child from the dictionary, there would have been challenges for her. Instead she stated, “I’m celebrated for the opportunities and adventures my life have procured.” Mullins believes that it’s not about the words, but it’s about the way we believe about people when we name them these words. “Its about the values behind the words and how we construct those values. Our language effects our thinking and how we view the world and other people,” she advocates. Words are powerful and the way we think often becomes our existence.
Growing up, Mullins did not like her physical therapy sessions and did not like the bands she worked with. But her physical therapist, dubbed Dr. P once said, “wow, Amiee you are such as strong and powerful little girl. I think you will break one of those bands. When you do break it, I will give you $100.” What he did, reshaped an awful experience into a promising experience for Mullins. His vision of her as a strong girl, shaped her own view of herself. It gave her the strength to continue and gave her a new reality. She finally saw herself as capable.
Mullins thanks the new generation of technology for allowing her to move beyond the limits that nature has imposed on her. She said, “everyone has something rare and powerful to offer our society and that the human ability to adapt is our greatest asset.” She feels uneasy when people ask her how she overcomes adversity. When overcoming adversity she remarked, “we are changed. we are marked of course by a challenge; whether physically, emotionally or both. I’m going to suggest that this is a good thing. Adversity isn’t an obstacle that we need to get around in order to resume living our life. It is a part of our life.” She describes adversity as a shadow that is always with you. Mullins believes when given adversity, we must rise above it.
She tries to help children meet the adversity with strength, by encouraging them to break free from the adversity, just like she did as a young child. She said, “we are a disservice to our kids when we make them feel that they are not equipped to adapt.” She wishes to not have people be described by their disability. Mullins believes that humans are capable of a lot of things and we must open ourselves up to the adversity and embracing it. If we view adversity as a part of life; natural, consistent and useful then we will be less burdened by the presence of it. She challenges people to view conflict as transformation. She believes, “until were tested, we do not know what were made of,” she continues, “maybe that is what adversity gives us. A sense of self, a sense of our own power.”
Mullins challenges people to give themselves a gift, to see adversity as change that we haven’t adapted ourselves to yet. She believes that being normal is boring and that we build character when we go through adversity. She says, “if we can change this paradigm from one of achieving normalcy to one of possibility or potency,” she continues, “we can release the power of so many more children and invite them to engage their rare and valuable abilities with the community.”
Mullins was the first double-amputee sprinter to compete in NCAA track and field for Georgetown University. She has built her career as a model, actor and advocate for women, sports and prosthetic’s. Mullins double-majored in history and diplomacy at Georgetown University and is the first double amputee to compete in the NCAA Division 1 track and field. Mullins assists numerous non profit organization and has done extensive work with the Women’s Sports Foundation. She is a founding member of the leadership board to SPIRE Institute, one of the largest athletic development centers in the world. Mullins was honored for her contribution to sports and her likeness appears in exhibits worldwide; featured at the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the NCAA Hall of Fame, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Modern, the Track and Field Hall of Fame, and the Women’s Museum. She has been featured in numerous magazines including: Life Magazine, Sports Illustrated for Women, ID, W, Dazed and Confused, Elle, Vogue, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Jane, Esquire, Rolling Stone and People Magazine. The exposure from the magazines have led to her traveling the world to speak at international conferences, fashion advertising deals/runway debuts working as a model and movie offers working as an actress. She has excelled in athletic activities ranging from: swimming, biking, softball, soccer, and skiing, always playing alongside “able-bodied” athletes.
Mullins victories teach us to redefine ourselves and to rise above the adversity.
Notes & References
1. TED2009. “Aimee Mullins: It’s not fair having 12 pairs of legs Video”
2. Ted. com. Retrieved 2012-08-05. “Aimee Mullins – The Colbert Report – 2010-15-04 – video clip – comedy central”