Saturday, February 7, 2009

Legs - or Super Legs? Two Extraordinary Women

My first TED post this year was about Juan Enriquez' presentation. He talked about advances in tissue generation and advanced robotics that could revolutionize how we think of our bodies. How would we handle a world where these devices would enable people to become 'better than human' he asked.

Then I attended a TED University talk by Aimee Mullins, a beautiful athlete, actress, and fashion model. She strutted on stage, all 6'1" of her, wearing very high heels. After a double take, I realized both her legs were prosthetics (she had amputations below the knee when she was one, due to missing fibula bones.)

Aimee showed us some of her favourite legs, including the legs with which she won paralympic medals in long jump and sprints.

These days she thinks of legs as wearable art, rather than mere imitations of human legs. She had 'cheetah legs' for a movie in which she played a cheetah. But my favourites were a beautifully carved ashwood pair built for a fashion show. They looked like finely tooled leather boots.

Aimee said she liked the legs she was wearing, because her normal height was 5'8", but it was fun to be 6'1". When a girlfriend first saw these legs, she had protested "That's just not fair!". What a milestone, she said, that someone with two legs would envy her.

Will such devices turn the tables so that we think of people with disabilities as being advantaged?

We met another extraordinary woman at TED, on the main stage - Lena Maria Klingvall. Born with no arms and one stunted leg, she was another incredibly self-confident, multi-faceted person. A swimming medallist in butterfly and the back stroke. A singer, a pop star in Japan. She can drive a car. She can do calligraphy. She can knit and crochet. She can eat with chopsticks.

Lena Maria attributes her success to great parents and her own positive and stubborn personality. I think her touch of exhibitionism is handy too!

These were two very inspirational women.

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