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  • Sheryl Shade: Hi, Aimee. Aimee Mullins: Hi.

  • SS: Aimee and I thought we'd just talk a little bit,

  • and I wanted her to tell all of you what makes her a distinctive athlete.

  • AM: Well, for those of you who have seen the picture in the little bio --

  • it might have given it away --

  • I'm a double amputee, and I was born without fibulas in both legs.

  • I was amputated at age one,

  • and I've been running like hell ever since, all over the place.

  • SS: Well, why don't you tell them how you got to Georgetown -- why don't we start there?

  • Why don't we start there?

  • AM: I'm a senior in Georgetown in the Foreign Service program.

  • I won a full academic scholarship out of high school.

  • They pick three students out of the nation every year

  • to get involved in international affairs,

  • and so I won a full ride to Georgetown

  • and I've been there for four years. Love it.

  • SS: When Aimee got there,

  • she decided that she's, kind of, curious about track and field,

  • so she decided to call someone and start asking about it.

  • So, why don't you tell that story?

  • AM: Yeah. Well, I guess I've always been involved in sports.

  • I played softball for five years growing up.

  • I skied competitively throughout high school,

  • and I got a little restless in college

  • because I wasn't doing anything for about a year or two sports-wise.

  • And I'd never competed on a disabled level, you know --

  • I'd always competed against other able-bodied athletes.

  • That's all I'd ever known.

  • In fact, I'd never even met another amputee until I was 17.

  • And I heard that they do these track meets with all disabled runners,

  • and I figured, "Oh, I don't know about this,

  • but before I judge it, let me go see what it's all about."

  • So, I booked myself a flight to Boston in '95, 19 years old

  • and definitely the dark horse candidate at this race. I'd never done it before.

  • I went out on a gravel track a couple of weeks before this meet

  • to see how far I could run,

  • and about 50 meters was enough for me, panting and heaving.

  • And I had these legs that were made of

  • a wood and plastic compound, attached with Velcro straps --

  • big, thick, five-ply wool socks on --

  • you know, not the most comfortable things, but all I'd ever known.

  • And I'm up there in Boston against people

  • wearing legs made of all things -- carbon graphite

  • and, you know, shock absorbers in them and all sorts of things --

  • and they're all looking at me like,

  • OK, we know who's not going to win this race.

  • And, I mean, I went up there expecting --

  • I don't know what I was expecting --

  • but, you know, when I saw a man who was missing an entire leg

  • go up to the high jump, hop on one leg to the high jump

  • and clear it at six feet, two inches ...

  • Dan O'Brien jumped 5'11" in '96 in Atlanta,

  • I mean, if it just gives you a comparison of --

  • these are truly accomplished athletes,

  • without qualifying that word "athlete."

  • And so I decided to give this a shot: heart pounding,

  • I ran my first race and I beat the national record-holder

  • by three hundredths of a second,

  • and became the new national record-holder on my first try out.

  • And, you know, people said,

  • "Aimee, you know, you've got speed -- you've got natural speed --

  • but you don't have any skill or finesse going down that track.

  • You were all over the place.

  • We all saw how hard you were working."

  • And so I decided to call the track coach at Georgetown.

  • And I thank god I didn't know just how huge this man is in the track and field world.

  • He's coached five Olympians, and

  • the man's office is lined from floor to ceiling

  • with All America certificates

  • of all these athletes he's coached.

  • He's just a rather intimidating figure.

  • And I called him up and said, "Listen, I ran one race and I won ..."

  • (Laughter)

  • "I want to see if I can, you know --

  • I need to just see if I can sit in on some of your practices,

  • see what drills you do and whatever."

  • That's all I wanted -- just two practices.

  • "Can I just sit in and see what you do?"

  • And he said, "Well, we should meet first, before we decide anything."

  • You know, he's thinking, "What am I getting myself into?"

  • So, I met the man, walked in his office,

  • and saw these posters and magazine covers of people he has coached.

  • And we got to talking,

  • and it turned out to be a great partnership

  • because he'd never coached a disabled athlete,

  • so therefore he had no preconceived notions

  • of what I was or wasn't capable of,

  • and I'd never been coached before.

  • So this was like, "Here we go -- let's start on this trip."

  • So he started giving me four days a week of his lunch break,

  • his free time, and I would come up to the track and train with him.

  • So that's how I met Frank.

  • That was fall of '95. But then, by the time that winter was rolling around,

  • he said, "You know, you're good enough.

  • You can run on our women's track team here."

  • And I said, "No, come on."

  • And he said, "No, no, really. You can.

  • You can run with our women's track team."

  • In the spring of 1996, with my goal of making the U.S. Paralympic team

  • that May coming up full speed, I joined the women's track team.

  • And no disabled person had ever done that -- run at a collegiate level.

  • So I don't know, it started to become an interesting mix.

  • SS: Well, on your way to the Olympics,

  • a couple of memorable events happened at Georgetown.

  • Why don't you just tell them?

  • AM: Yes, well, you know, I'd won everything as far as the disabled meets --

  • everything I competed in -- and, you know, training in Georgetown

  • and knowing that I was going to have to get used to

  • seeing the backs of all these women's shirts --

  • you know, I'm running against the next Flo-Jo --

  • and they're all looking at me like,

  • "Hmm, what's, you know, what's going on here?"

  • And putting on my Georgetown uniform

  • and going out there and knowing that, you know,

  • in order to become better -- and I'm already the best in the country --

  • you know, you have to train with people who are inherently better than you.

  • And I went out there and made it to the Big East,

  • which was sort of the championship race at the end of the season.

  • It was really, really hot.

  • And it's the first --

  • I had just gotten these new sprinting legs that you see in that bio,

  • and I didn't realize at that time that

  • the amount of sweating I would be doing in the sock --

  • it actually acted like a lubricant

  • and I'd be, kind of, pistoning in the socket.

  • And at about 85 meters of my 100 meters sprint, in all my glory,

  • I came out of my leg.

  • Like, I almost came out of it, in front of, like, 5,000 people.

  • And I, I mean, was just mortified --

  • because I was signed up for the 200, you know, which went off in a half hour.

  • (Laughter)

  • I went to my coach: "Please, don't make me do this."

  • I can't do this in front of all those people. My legs will come off.

  • And if it came off at 85 there's no way I'm going 200 meters.

  • And he just sat there like this.

  • My pleas fell on deaf ears, thank god.

  • Because you know, the man is from Brooklyn;

  • he's a big man. He says, "Aimee, so what if your leg falls off?

  • You pick it up, you put the damn thing back on,

  • and finish the goddamn race!"

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • And I did. So, he kept me in line.

  • He kept me on the right track.

  • SS: So, then Aimee makes it to the 1996 Paralympics,

  • and she's all excited. Her family's coming down -- it's a big deal.

  • It's now two years that you've been running?

  • AM: No, a year.

  • SS: A year. And why don't you tell them what happened

  • right before you go run your race?

  • AM: Okay, well, Atlanta.

  • The Paralympics, just for a little bit of clarification,

  • are the Olympics for people with physical disabilities --

  • amputees, persons with cerebral palsy, and wheelchair athletes --

  • as opposed to the Special Olympics,

  • which deals with people with mental disabilities.

  • So, here we are, a week after the Olympics and down at Atlanta,

  • and I'm just blown away by the fact that

  • just a year ago, I got out on a gravel track and couldn't run 50 meters.

  • And so, here I am -- never lost.

  • I set new records at the U.S. Nationals -- the Olympic trials -- that May,

  • and was sure that I was coming home with the gold.

  • I was also the only, what they call "bilateral BK" -- below the knee.

  • I was the only woman who would be doing the long jump.

  • I had just done the long jump,

  • and a guy who was missing two legs came up to me and says,

  • "How do you do that? You know, we're supposed to have a planar foot,

  • so we can't get off on the springboard."

  • I said, "Well, I just did it. No one told me that."

  • So, it's funny -- I'm three inches within the world record --

  • and kept on from that point, you know,

  • so I'm signed up in the long jump -- signed up?

  • No, I made it for the long jump and the 100-meter.

  • And I'm sure of it, you know?

  • I made the front page of my hometown paper

  • that I delivered for six years, you know?

  • It was, like, this is my time for shine.

  • And we're at the trainee warm-up track,

  • which is a few blocks away from the Olympic stadium.

  • These legs that I was on, which I'll take out right now --

  • I was the first person in the world on these legs.

  • I was the guinea pig., I'm telling you,

  • this was, like -- talk about a tourist attraction.

  • Everyone was taking pictures -- "What is this girl running on?"

  • And I'm always looking around, like, where is my competition?

  • It's my first international meet.

  • I tried to get it out of anybody I could,

  • you know, "Who am I running against here?"

  • "Oh, Aimee, we'll have to get back to you on that one."

  • I wanted to find out times.

  • "Don't worry, you're doing great."

  • This is 20 minutes before my race in the Olympic stadium,

  • and they post the heat sheets. And I go over and look.

  • And my fastest time, which was the world record, was 15.77.

  • Then I'm looking: the next lane, lane two, is 12.8.

  • Lane three is 12.5. Lane four is 12.2. I said, "What's going on?"

  • And they shove us all into the shuttle bus,

  • and all the women there are missing a hand.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, I'm just, like --

  • they're all looking at me like 'which one of these is not like the other,' you know?

  • I'm sitting there, like, "Oh, my god. Oh, my god."

  • You know, I'd never lost anything,

  • like, whether it would be the scholarship or, you know,

  • I'd won five golds when I skied. In everything, I came in first.

  • And Georgetown -- that was great.

  • I was losing, but it was the best training because this was Atlanta.

  • Here we are, like, crème de la crème,

  • and there is no doubt about it, that I'm going to lose big.

  • And, you know, I'm just thinking,

  • "Oh, my god, my whole family got in a van

  • and drove down here from Pennsylvania."

  • And, you know, I was the only female U.S. sprinter.

  • So they call us out and, you know --

  • "Ladies, you have one minute."

  • And I remember putting my blocks in and just feeling horrified

  • because there was just this murmur coming over the crowd,

  • like, the ones who are close enough to the starting line to see.

  • And I'm like, "I know! Look! This isn't right."

  • And I'm thinking that's my last card to play here;

  • if I'm not going to beat these girls,

  • I'm going to mess their heads a little, you know?

  • (Laughter)

  • I mean, it was definitely the "Rocky IV" sensation of me versus Germany,

  • and everyone else -- Estonia and Poland -- was in this heat.

  • And the gun went off, and all I remember was

  • finishing last and

  • fighting back tears of frustration and incredible -- incredible --

  • this feeling of just being overwhelmed.

  • And I had to think, "Why did I do this?"

  • If I had won everything -- but it was like, what was the point?

  • All this training -- I had transformed my life.

  • I became a collegiate athlete, you know. I became an Olympic athlete.

  • And it made me really think about how

  • the achievement was getting there.

  • I mean, the fact that I set my sights, just a year and three months before,

  • on becoming an Olympic athlete and saying,

  • "Here's my life going in this direction --

  • and I want to take it here for a while,

  • and just seeing how far I could push it."

  • And the fact that I asked for help -- how many people jumped on board?

  • How many people gave of their time and their expertise,

  • and their patience, to deal with me?

  • And that was this collective glory --

  • that there was, you know, 50 people behind me

  • that had joined in this incredible experience of going to Atlanta.

  • So, I apply this sort of philosophy now

  • to everything I do:

  • sitting back and realizing the progression,

  • how far you've come at this day to this goal, you know.

  • It's important to focus on a goal, I think, but

  • also recognize the progression on the way there