Inspirational Athletes

Aimee Mullins

“All progress occurs because people dare to be different.” Harry Millner

Aimee Mullins (Illustrator: Thomas Mesenbring Field)

In 1998, Aimee Mullins made her fashion-modeling debut. To most people who witnessed her performance, she appeared to be wearing hand carved wooden boots.

But they were not boots—they were artificial legs. And that day, Aimee showed that you don’t have to have two legs to be a fashion model. Of course, before her modeling debut, she had also shown that you don’t need two legs to be an athlete, either.

Aimee was born with a condition called fibular hemimelia. According to doctors, she needed a double amputation soon after her birth, in order to be able to walk in the future.

Aimee’s parents decided for the amputations, and at the age of one, both of her legs were amputated below the knee. Unfortunately, the surgery’s side effects caused her to require additional major surgery at age three, five, and eight, plus many long hospital stays.

Although Aimee grew up with artificial lower legs, her mother treated her as a self-sufficient person who did not require special treatment. As a child, she was gradually able to learn how to move and run very well with artificial legs, and even play various sports like softball, hiking, swimming, and skiing.

Then in 1995, as she neared the end of high school, Aimee decided to compete in track and field events for the disabled at a Boston meet; and, having performed well at the meet, she decided to become a devoted track and field athlete. That meet was also where she first observed other competitors wearing a type of prosthesis that was lighter and more flexible than her wooden ones. Not long afterwards, a prosthesis designer made her a pair of special sprinting “legs,” which, despite having some drawbacks, were leaps and bounds better than any she had formerly used.

After the meet at Boston, Aimee set her hopes on competing in the 1996 Paralympics. And that year, while attending Georgetown University, she joined the school’s Division I track team. Competing against able-bodied athletes, Aimee usually finished last, but did manage to put up respectable times and gain valuable experience.

Then after a season at Georgetown, Aimee dominated at the 1996 Paralympics, with performances that placed her among the world’s elite leg amputee athletes. Two years later, she graduated at Georgetown, and was the holder of several unofficial women’s world leg amputee records. In the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia, she set official world Paralympic leg amputee records in the 100 meter dash, 200 meter dash, and long jump.

And ever since making her aforementioned modeling debut in 1998, Aimee has also had an active and successful modeling career.

All the while, as both an athlete and a model, Aimee has been careful to represent herself as an athlete and model rather than as a mere gimmick or human-interest story. Handling media attention with grace, she has drawn a fine line between being proud of who she is and being exploited as an oddity.

Aside from modeling and athletics, Aimee has been active in numerous other ventures, including televisions and movie appearances. And as the cofounder of HOPE, a non-profit group that helps disabled people compete in sports, she helps create opportunities for and elevate the lives of other disabled people.

Aimee also regularly makes personal appearances at schools, charities, and companies. In one meeting with a group of sixth graders, after describing how she overcame numerous setbacks in her life, she remarked, “People who succeed have perseverance ... it’s not the prize, but the journey.”

Inspirational Athletes