Aimee Mullins is a true polymath. Her passions and professional pursuits are as varied and boundless as the awards and groundbreaking strides she’s achieved within her many chosen fields. She broke new ground in athletics as the first amputee in history to compete against able-bodied athletes in the NCAA’s Division 1 track and field events. She went on to set records in the 100 and 200 meter races and the long jump.
Her poise and athleticism led to a career in fashion as a runway model for Alexander McQueen and as a global ambassador for L’Oreal. She then added acting to her portfolio with roles in wildly varied projects ranging from artist Matthew Barney’s Cremaster series to Netflix’s Stranger Things. Through it all, Aimee has continued to make sense of the many trails she’s blazed in a series of influential TED talks that have been viewed by millions and translated into 42 languages.
‘Disabled’ is perfectly relevant when describing a piece of machinery. But I find it really problematic when we use it to describe humans.Aimee Mullins
It was her paradigm-shifting talk on the “opportunity of adversity” that offered a veritable proof of concept for the ideas I’m exploring in this season of Change Lab. Her powerful argument for the creative leaps that result only from the hurdles we face resonated deeply with the idea that the human imagination feeds on challenge and uncertainty – a familiar concept to regular listeners of this podcast.
Aimee contends that we meet and exceed our goals because of—not despite—each obstacle we encounter. An insight she’s earned the hard way navigating the world as a double amputee. Her insistence that “good enough” isn’t good enough has led to advances in prosthetic design that would never exist without her. In fact, Aimee contends that disability itself is a misnomer better attributed to a broken piece of machinery than a human being whose differences are the source of their strength. I think we all have much to learn from Aimee’s self-determination, curiosity and wonder.