By
Aimee Mullins & Marissa Nasiatka

Our Interview with Aimee Mullins

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Image of Aimee Mullins she is blonde and attractive. Aimee has two prosthetic legs. In the photo, she is sitting in a rolling chair bent over placing a shoe on her left prothetic leg. She is wearing a black jumpsuit and her hair is in a long ponytail.

Aimee Mullins is an athlete, fashion model and activist. She also stars in the hugely successful, Emmy-nominated Netflix series Stranger Things. Aimee’s film debut was a starring role in the highly acclaimed film Cremaster 3, by contemporary artist Matthew Barney, first presented in the US at the Guggenheim Museum in 2003. The Guardian called it “one of the most imaginative and brilliant achievements in the history of avant-garde cinema.”

She continued her work with Barney in River of Fundament, an adaptation of Norman Mailer’s novel ‘Ancient Evenings’, in which she starred as Isis. Chronicling the seven stages of a soul’s journey from death to rebirth, each filmed chapter is also accompanied by a one-time only live performance. The work, a six-hour operatic epic, premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music in February 2014.

Aimee first received worldwide media attention as an athlete. Born without fibula in both legs, Aimee's medical prognosis was discouraging; she was told she would never walk and would likely spend the rest of her life using a wheelchair. In an attempt for an outside chance at independent mobility, doctors amputated both her legs below the knee on her first birthday. The decision paid off. By age two, she had learned to walk on prosthetic legs, and spent her childhood swimming, biking, skiing, playing softball and soccer with everyone else.

After graduating high school with honors, Aimee was one of three students in the US chosen for a full academic scholarship from the Department of Defense, and at age 17 became the youngest person to hold a top-secret security clearance at the Pentagon, where she worked as an intelligence analyst.

While a dean’s list student at the prestigious School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, she set her sights on making the US Team for the 1996 Atlanta Games. She enlisted the expertise of Frank Gagliano, one of the country’s most respected track coaches. Through this partnership, she became the first woman with a “disability” to compete in the NCAA, doing so on Georgetown’s nationally ranked Division I track team.

Aimee set her sights on becoming the fastest woman in the world on prosthetic legs and began to wonder why legs made for sprinting wouldn’t be modeled on those of the fastest land animal, rather than just those of a human. Working in collaboration with a cutting-edge biomedical engineer and a visionary prosthetist she went on to set World Records in the 100 meter, the 200 meter, and the long jump, outfitted with woven carbon-fiber prostheses that were modeled after the hind legs of a cheetah.

These legs, which Aimee was the first to wear, are now the international standard for amputee runners.

After a profile in Life magazine showcased her in the starting blocks at Atlanta, the world took notice. Aimee soon landed a 10-page feature in the inaugural issue of Sports Illustrated for Women, which led to her accepting numerous invitations to speak at international design conferences.

The discourse regarding aesthetic principles sparked Aimee’s interest in issues relating to body image and how fashion advertising impacted standard notions of femininity and beauty. In 1998, Aimée made her runway debut in London at the invitation of one of the world’s most celebrated fashion designers, Alexander McQueen. Walking alongside the supermodels of the world, Aimee’s groundbreaking, triumphant turn propelled her onto the magazine covers of ID and Dazed and Confused.

An influential voice in today’s culture, she is regularly invited to share her ideas at global conferences, such as the world-famous TED conferences, where she is one of their most popular speakers and was named a TED All-Star. Her talks have been translated into 41 languages and have been seen by millions of viewers worldwide.

In 2012, she was designated a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In 2017, Aimée was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame joining fellow honorees “whose leadership and achievements have changed the course of American history.”

Aimee serves on the boards of various non-profit organizations, most notably the Women’s Sports Foundation, founded by Billie Jean King, of which Aimee was elected President from 2007 to 2009. Aimee also had four years as Vice-President for the nation’s oldest non-profit employment service for persons with disabilities, ‘Just One Break’. She was the first woman on the board since the organization was founded in 1947 by Eleanor Roosevelt.  As Secretary of State in 2012, Hillary Clinton appointed her to the State Department’s ‘Council to Empower Women and Girls Through Sports’.

Aimee’s impact on modern society and her influence on future generations is undeniable. Her likeness has been immortalized in exhibits at institutions such as 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, where she is honored for her contribution to sport among the “Greatest American Women of the 20th Century.” In 2017, the National Women’s Hall of Fame inducted Aimée, making her one of the youngest honorees ever to receive this distinction.  In 2018, she received an Honorary Doctorate from Northeastern University and delivered their commencement speech which garnered a standing ovation from the audience of 22,000.  In 2019, Aimee delivered the commencement speech at Concordia University and inducted Jane Fonda into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Interviewed by our Different & Able President and Founder, Alexandra Nicklas, Aimee shares how she uses her medical condition to inspire others and how she has broken boundaries to become a record-breaking athlete, model and film star. Alexandra and Aimee also talk about what defines beauty, Aimee’s twelve pairs of prosthetic legs, and how her incredibly diverse career has helped her, and others re-imagine the limits of one's potential. Aimee states, “Adversity isn't an obstacle that we need to get around in order to resume living our life. It's part of our life.”

 

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