Aimee Mullins TED

A regular visitor to TED for their great lectures, I stumbled upon Aimee Mullins’ (“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”) presentation called ‘The Opportunity of Adversity.’ Given my focus, I had to have a listen. At first, I was disappointed by the content and delivery.

She was nervous and unsteady, and she centred a lot of the initial part of the talk on semantics and how we talk about disabilities which was neither compelling nor original or even completely logical. But as the talk went on, she made some intriguing speculations about human experience and even some dramatic assertions about her own experience. So much so that in the end the talk has inspired three distinct posts from me.

The first area I wanted to share was some of the highlights of her sharing her own individual perspective of embracing adversity…

“People have continually wanted me to talk about ‘overcoming adversity’…and this phrase never sat right with me…Implicit in this phrase of ‘overcoming adversity’ is the idea that ‘success’ or ‘happiness’ is about emerging on the other side of a challenging experience unscathed or unmarked by the experience as if my successes in life have come about from an ability to side-step or circumnavigate the presumed pitfalls of life with prosthetics or what other people perceive as my disability. But, in fact, we are changed, we are marked, of course, by a challenge whether physically, emotionally or both, and I suggest that this is a good thing. Adversity is not an obstacle that we need to get around in order to resume living our life. It’s part of life.”

“It’s not about devaluing or negating these more trying times as something we want to avoid or sweep under the rug, but instead to find those opportunities wrapped in the adversity…So maybe the idea that I want to put out there is not so much overcoming adversity as it is opening ourselves up to it…Embracing it.”

“If you had asked me at 15 years old if I would have traded prosthetics for flesh and bone legs, I wouldn’t have hesitated for one second. I aspired to that kind of normalcy back then. If you asked me today, I’m not so sure. It is because of the experiences that I have had with them, not in spite of the experiences I have had with them.”

I’d be hard pressed to identify someone who has embraced their adversity with as much positive spirit as she has.