Secret Lives: Cassie Mitchell 04G 09PhD

Day Job

Senior research scientist in neuroengineering with joint appointments at Emory and Georgia Tech; holds degrees from the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering

Secret Life: Paralympic athlete

When she was eighteen, Cassie Mitchell 04G 09PhD woke up one morning and couldn’t walk. She has not moved her legs since. Diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica, or Devic’s disease—an autoimmune disorder that attacks the spine—Mitchell had to change her plans to attend college on a track scholarship and then go on to medical school to become a surgeon. As a student at Oklahoma State University, Mitchell was approached by a coach who noticed her strength and skill in her wheelchair. She joined the parasports team and went on to become a world champion in paracycling and para track and field, holding records in both. Mitchell placed fourth in track and field at the 2012 Paralympics in London, and hopes to return to the competition in Rio in 2016. She also serves as a mentor to recent spinal cord injury patients at Shepherd Center.

Her Words

“When I joined the parasports team in college, it was like I was given back a part of me that had been taken away. It just grew from there. Now I find that some of my best ideas come to me during a hard workout when I’m thinking about my research. The most important thing about [doing parasports] isn’t the thing anyone would expect—it’s that it keeps me fit and healthy and independent, able to do things I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. I love the thrill and adrenaline rush of competing, but what’s most important is what you get out of it every day.”

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