Aimee Mullins, the name meant nothing to me two weeks ago. Then I heard her speak, with flawless articulation, on TED.com about diversity and the opportunities it brings. Aimee speaks with authority to the general definition of “disabled”, about how it’s definition disables people of diversity, and about what people with defined disabilities find disabling. Aimee is an amputee of both legs from just under her knee. She was born without fibula bones (calf bones), so she had them removed as a baby. At that time, her parents were told she would never live an independent, “normal” life.
Aimee grew up and landed an academic scholarship to Georgetown University, where she graduated with a dual major in history and diplomacy. During her college career, she landed an impressive Foreign Affairs internship working at The Pentagon. Georgetown is also where she was introduced to the sport of track and field and, in a year’s time was representing her school as a division I track and field athlete, sprinting the 100m and 200m dash and long jumping. She then went on to set world records in the 100m dash and the long jump at the 1996 Paralympic games. Her resume is as broad as it is impressive, since Amy is also a model who has graced runways in London and Paris, and she has also done some acting. She has done all of this with a spirit which she accredits to doing everything without legs.
In Aimee’s talk she challenged how we think of disability – she believes that the only disability she has incurred is the attitude of those who think she cannot do something. Her philosophy is not ‘if,’ it’s ‘how”. She has always believed this, and proved to those around her that they should believe this too- including the man who told her parents she’d never live a normal life- indeed she has proved that in an ironic way. The thing that she said during her TED talk, and the words that will echo with me were those of Darwin, ‘it is not the strongest that survived, or even the smartest, but those who could adapt the best that thrived’. I heard this in science class, yes, I know that technology allows for medical miracles, yes, I believe in the underdog, yes, but I had never considered the fact that an amputee was not an underdog. Adaptation is the opportunity of diversity- she can- just in a different way, and the confidence, poise and creativity which she possesses because of her unique story are phenomenal. Her story is the ultimate lesson that the human spirit can adapt to more than we think – and she challenges each of us not only to adapt to the circumstances of our bodies, minds and lives, but to embrace them and thrive with them, and because of them, not in spite of them.