The thesaurus might equate “disabled” with synonyms like “useless” and “mutilated,” but ground-breaking runner Aimee Mullins is out to redefine the word. Defying these associations, she shows how adversity — in her case, being born without shinbones — actually opens the door for human potential.

Why you should listen:

She’s a passionate advocate for a new kind of thinking about prosthetics, and recently mentioned to an interviewer that she’s been looking closely at MIT’s in-development powered robotic ankle, “which I fully plan on having.” She talks of the adaptability of children as the most important quality we can foster in them.

Who is she?

Aimee Mullins was born without fibular bones, and had both of her legs amputated below the knee when she was an infant. She learned to walk on prosthetics, then to run — competing at the national and international level as a champion sprinter, and setting world records at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. At Georgetown, where she double-majored in history and diplomacy, she became the first double amputee to compete in NCAA Division 1 track and field


1)What was your reaction to the thesaurus’s description of disabled?

2)She says that it’s not the words, but it’s about the values behind the words and how we construct those values that are important. Explain that statement.

3)Dr. Pizzutillo in one brief statement began to shape her self-image to that of a strong, powerful and athletic person. How did he do this?

4)“Technology is revealing more clearly to us now what has always been a truth: that everyone has something rare and powerful to offer our society, and that the human ability to adapt is our greatest asset.” Can you think of an example of you, or someone you know, adapting to overcome circumstances?

5) “Adversity isn’t an obstacle that we need to get around in order to resume living our life. It’s part of our life. And I tend to think of it like my shadow. Sometimes I see a lot of it, sometimes there’s very little, but it’s always with me.” Explain what she means by this statement to someone.

6)“Now, who’s normal? There’s no normal. There’s common, there’s typical. There’s no normal, and would you want to meet that poor, beige person if they existed?”  Explain why you are normal or not to someone?

The opportunity of adversity with Aimee Mullins


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