Tokyo Paralympics: How Lex Gillette never let loss of sight keep him away from his track dream
Lex Gillette lost his eyesight when he was 8 years old but never gave up on his dream
When one visits four-time Paralympic medalist Lex Gillette's website, they are greeted with the same message that perhaps he leads his life by — "No need for sight when you have a vision". The World Record Holder in the long jump for totally blind athletes has competed around the world with the support of his sighted guide. At the Tokyo Paralympics, Gillette is readying himself up to be a part of the games for the fifth time. Will he bring home the gold this time around?
Gillette, 36, lost his eyesight when he was 8 years old — he was getting ready for bed when he reportedly noticed blurriness. Doctors went on to discover retina detachments in both eyes, leading to numerous hospital visits and 10 surgeries before he lost his sight completely. However, this is not something that Gillette let come in the way of his broader vision — to be an athlete.
He began long jumping when he was 15. "That came out of a physical fitness test we had to participate in," he said. However, it was not easy to get started on this — he admits he was hesitant at first.
"Someone asks you to run as fast as you can without being able to see anything, that's really scary, and it takes a lot of trust," Gillette reportedly said. Gillette was raised in Raleigh by his mother Verdina Gillette-Simms, who, according to a 2012 interview in New York Times, herself has been legally blind since she was 18.
But Gillette kept at it — regardless of all that kept him from achieving his vision. As it turns out, Gillette had a natural talent for jumping. Add to that his dedication and hard work, he went on to compete in his first Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004. There, he became a silver medalist in long jump and set a new American record of 6.24m.
In the 2007 US Paralympics Track and Field National Championships, Marietta, Georgia, he won the gold for long jump. The following year, in the 2008 US Paralympics Track and Field National Championships, Tempe, Arizona, he won the gold for long jump and triple jump. As per his website, he was named the 2014 Roger McCarville Male Athlete of the Year by the Athletes with Disabilities Network [ADN] in the United States of America.
At the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, he won a silver medal in the men's long jump F11 event, finishing fifth in the men's triple jump F11. At the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, he won a third consecutive silver medal in the men's long jump F11 event and finished fourth in the triple jump event.
In 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, he won the silver. In Tokyo Paralympics, he is hoping to bring home the gold. He has won four silver medals at the Paralympic Games, but he has never won the gold. So this time, the stakes are high for him. "Fortunately, I'm still healthy, strong, and fast. I'm jumping far right now, so yes, it's definitely going to be a lot of fun as all the games are different," Gillette said.
"I train Monday through Friday, three, sometimes four hours a day, in hopes of winning that gold medal," Gillette said. "So, I feel that I am prepared; I know that I am prepared. The only thing left to do is go to the Games, don't put too much pressure on myself and do my absolute best and have fun in the process."