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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A wonderful and inspiring success story

Published on February 24, 2010 in unsung heroes. 0 Comments
By Scott Allison and George Goethals

Born with fibular hemimelia — missing fibula bones — Aimee Mullins remembers hating her physical therapy sessions as a child. She had to do innumerable repetitive exercises that involved using her legs to bend thick elastic bands to build up her muscles. She hated them and tried to bargain with her doctor to avoid doing them.

Her doctor told her, “Aimee, you are such a strong and powerful little girl, I think you’re going to break one of these bands. When you do break it, I’m going to give you $100.”

With these words, her doctor forever changed her worldview. “What he effectively did for me was re-shape an awful daily occurrence into a new and promising experience for me. I have to wonder to what extent his vision and his declaration of me as a strong and powerful little girl shaped my own view of myself as an inherently strong, powerful, and athletic person well into the future.”

By any measure, Mullins’ life has been a remarkable success story. Mullins competed in the Paralympics in 1996 in Atlanta, where she ran the 100-meter dash in 17.01 seconds and jumped 3.14 meters in the long-jump. She is a college graduate, actress, fashion model, and motivational speaker. Mullins works with numerous non-profit organizations and is President of the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“People have continually wanted to talk about overcoming adversity,” she says. “This phrase never sat right with me. Implicit in this phrase is the idea that success or happiness is about emerging on the other side of a challenging experience unscathed or unmarked by the experience. But in fact, we are changed. We are marked, of course, by a challenge, whether physically or 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’s part of our life.

“I’m not trying to diminish the impact, the weight of a person’s struggle. There is adversity and challenge in life, and it’s all very real.

“The question isn’t whether you’re going to meet adversity. It’s how you’re going to meet it. And so our responsibility isn’t to shield those we care for from adversity, but to prepare them to meet it well. We do a disservice to our kids when we make them feel they aren’t equipped to adapt to adversity.

“Find those opportunities wrapped in adversity. Maybe the idea is not so much overcoming adversity. It’s opening ourselves up to it. It’s embracing it. Grappling with it. Maybe even dancing with it.

“Perhaps if we see adversity as natural, consistent, and useful, we’re less burdened by it. Darwin illustrated a truth about the human character. It’s not the strongest to survive, nor is it the most intelligent to survive. It is the one who is most adaptable to change. The human ability to survive and flourish is driven by the struggle of the human spirit. Transformation, adaptation is our greatest human skill. Perhaps until we are tested, we don’t know what we’re made of. Maybe that’s what adversity gives us: a sense of self, a sense of our own power.

“We can give ourselves a gift. We can re-imagine adversity as more than just tough times. Adversity is just change that we haven’t adapted ourselves to yet.”

Aimee Mullins’ entire motivational speech can be seen and heard at