Prosthetic legs won't slow Aimee Mullins down
Posted: Friday June 22, 2007 9:42AM; Updated: Friday June 22, 2007 10:05AM
Aimee Mullins is awesome. And not just in the colloquial sense -- she is truly awe-inspiring. She's been named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World. She graduated from Georgetown University in 1998 with a dual degree in history and diplomacy. As a model, she has walked runways in London and Paris. An aspiring actress, she has performed on both television and in movies.
But then, Mullins isn't some shallow slashie mactress. First she was a world-class athlete, having run track at Georgetown and holding records in sprints and the long jump. In January she was voted President of the Women's Sports Foundation by the likes of Danica Patrick and Maria Sharapova. Her accomplishments are each impressive enough on their own, but when you take into account that she's done it all on silicone and titanium legs, she's just making the rest of us look bad.
Yes, Mullins is also a double-amputee; when she was a year old she lost her lower legs because she was born without fibulae. She owns 10 different sets of prosthetic legs, from her titanium sprinting legs ("my brother calls them my 'robo-cop legs,'" she laughs) to the intricately carved ashwood museum pieces she once modeled in a fashion show for designer Alexander McQueen. At a recent media event, she sported fashionable white skinny jeans, gold sandals and a dark pink pedicure. To see her walk one would never know her legs are prosthetic, unless you were also aware that she is a highly accomplished Paralympic athlete (she currently holds the Paralympics amputee record for the long jump, and set world records for the 100 and 200 meter sprints in 1996).
Get this: Mullins didn't even get into track until halfway through college, though she's always been athletic and competitive.
"I grew up in a town with a great wrestling tradition," says the Laurey's Station, Pa. native, who got tough wrestling her two brothers. "Then I was a team sport queen in high school; I played softball, volleyball, and soccer. Oh, and I also did ski racing."
Mullins went to Georgetown on an academic scholarship and after a couple years she actually thought she had too much free time on her hands, so she decided to join a sports team. "Track came to me in college because Georgetown wasn't near any ski mountains," she explains. She subsequently became the first double-below-the-knee amputee in NCAA history to compete on a Division I track team.
Mullins credits Georgetown's philosophy of "educating the whole person" with inspiring her to always try new things. "Being a student, then an athlete, and now an actress was a no-brainer for me," she says, as if any of us mere mortals could just one day wake up and decide we want to be in an Oliver Stone film (she appeared in World Trade Center) or model for Christian Dior.
Her athletic background and competitive drive are what propel Mullins through every new experience and challenge. "In athletics, the idea of possibility is presumed," she says. "It's not 'if,' it's 'how.' And that is how artists, and fashion designers, and musicians see the world. It's not possibility, it's potential.
"Walking the runway with Alexander McQueen, I really had to dig deep. You're with Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. I was the first person out on the runway, but I thought, I have done the Olympics, I can do this."
Mullins also made a memorable appearance in the artist Matthew Barney's 2002 film Cremaster 3, in which she cut potatoes with her prosthetic feet while sitting in the Chrysler Building, then later appeared as a cheetah woman (she even sported incredibly realistic cheetah legs). The role has made her something of a cult figure.
"I'll be giving a speech at the randomest place, like a bank or something," she says, "and a guy in a suit will say, 'I'm totally freaked out that I'm talking to the girl from Cremaster.'
"For the rest of my life that movie will be playing in a museum somewhere. I never could have expected that huge response."
Barney recruited Mullins for his movie after seeing her on the cover of Dazed and Confused Magazine. The pair instantly clicked.
"He loved the idea of what I was talking about, that it's about potential," she explains. "Rather than looking at my legs as some sort of deficiency that had to be overcome, he said, 'Why don't we do anything we want? We can do anything.'"
Mullins is currently focused on her acting career (she plays a lead role in the forthcoming film Quid Pro Quo) and her job with the Women's Sports Foundation, for whom she travels and speaks nationally. To keep in shape she now boxes in Greenwich Village. She's won dozens of awards and honors, but she'll instantly recall a true hardship of her career:
"Madonna wanted me for a video," she says. "But I was already committed to a speaking engagement in Kansas City. I remember sitting there thinking, She is the hardest person in my life that I have ever had to say no to. I love Madonna; she keeps creating and re-creating her own reality."
You can be sure that Aimee Mullins will do the same for years to come.