More often than not, we allow ourselves to wallow in angst about the things we want or don’t have. For athlete Lex Gillette, that isn’t an option.
The Southern native and three-time Paralympic medalist had retina detachments in both eyes at 8-years-old, leaving him without sight – but his dreams only grew from there. Learning to live in the world again with the support of his mother, the blind athlete is one of the most prominent visually impaired long-jumpers in the world.
Even the very first Paralympic Games were limited, as they only allowed WWII veterans to compete in 1948. As the years passed, new rules were regulated and the world saw the Winter Games’ first African-American medal winner in 1960 — Bonnie St. John. Over 30 years later, Gillette and his high school teachers discovered he had a gift in track and field, eventually leading him to compete in the Games.
Gillette admits it was something he didn’t initially want to do, but after getting over his fears, he mastered the long jump. Today, Gillette isn’t only a medal and record holder, he’s a dignitary for the disabled and those who fight hard for their dreams. His mission statement and life motto, “No Need For Sight When You Have A Vision,” helps others understand that their dreams aren’t limited, no matter what obstacles are in the way.
Gillette, who has partnered with Tide this holiday season to raise awareness about blindness, speaks to NewsOne exclusively about the road to the 2016 games in Rio, and how he’s discovered a new vision: sheer determination.
Check out the interview below.
As a three-time Paralympic medalist, how do you view the aspect of winning? Do you believe it is important?
“I think winning plays a big role in it, I can’t speak for all of the athletes; but when you get to that level, you’re all on the same stage and everyone there has overcome some kind of challenge. Once you get to the game, you want to win. There’s three spots – gold, silver, and bronze and of course, everyone wants the gold.”
Your mother has played a pivotal role in your career. How does that make you feel?
“It makes me feel really good. It’s just awesome. The awards and records are great, but a lot of credit goes to her for everything that she’s taught me. It all stems from the foundation she’s built in the home. That’s one of the cool things about working with Tide. That was all her. She was really big into helping me clean my room, wash dishes and do my laundry. From that early age, even before I lost my sight, I watched her do so many things. I remember seeing her use Tide and after I lost my sight, that was the product of choice that she continued to use and I ended up using. Sports are definitely important, but I do a lot of speaking engagements and I have to make sure my image is good. You want to keep that up to par because when I’m standing up and giving a speech, I want to make sure that I look nice and my clothes are perfect.”
Speaking of Tide, what’s your partnership with the company about?
“October was Blindness Awareness Month, so just really going around educating people on blindness. Also, the Tide Pods and how easy they are to use and how they make life so much easier. I’m from North Carolina originally and when I came home from training, she told me about Tide Pods and even when I was growing up, she made sure I had things that made my life a lot easier, but I can still get the tasks done. She told me, ‘You don’t have to worry about measuring things out, you can just throw them inside of the washing machine.’ I know it’s important to do my laundry but it’s not something I necessarily like to do, but for me being an athlete, going out to train and things like that, I can get home, throw my clothes in the washing machine with the Tide Pods and get out of there immediately and trust that my clothes are going to be fresh.”
I like that there are things like Tide Pods around that make it easier for visually impaired people to do simple tasks. Do you think other industries like technology are moving fast enough to cater to disabled consumers?
“I think there’s a lot of things out there, but I just feel that there needs to be a light shed on it. It needs to have more exposure. I didn’t even know about Tide Pods until my mother introduced me to it. I think it’s just spreading that knowledge and shedding more light on it.”
Do you think people of color who have disabilities believe they can’t face adversity?
“I think it comes down to the environment and the people around you. My mom and teachers that supported me helped me believe my disability was never something that could hinder me. Anything that I thought about or anything that I dreamed about, they encouraged me to go after that and if I missed the mark, then so what? You either figure it out, or do something else that interests you.
The blindness, I don’t think that ever had any sort of influence on what I wanted to do. Lawyer, writer, athlete…I never saw blindness as something that would stop me from achieving any of those things. A lot of people just don’t know. It’s awareness and all it takes is one person hearing or seeing someone on TV doing it.
“That’s what so awesome about competing in the Paralympics because sometimes, someone needs to see that they can go out there and do the exact same thing I’m doing.”
The Games are in Rio are next year. What are you doing to prepare?
“I’m going to start training in a week. The first few months consist of time on the track. A lot of stadium runs, heel runs, the weight room – so I’m trying to build that foundation for the season. Even outside of that, just preparing mentally. That’s our Super Bowl, so you have to make sure you want to get on top of the podium.”
What’s your favorite thing about the holidays?
“My family really likes to joke around and have fun. I love to listen to everyone’s laughter and reminisce about things. My aunt makes amazing sweet potato pie and my grandmother always cooks really good food. Someone asked me if I was going to cook and I told them I’ll show up with my appetite. I’ll let everyone else handle that. It’s going to be a great time.”
Explain your life motto, “No Need For Sight When You Have A Vision.”
“I have a site where the motto is “No Need For Sight When You Have A Vision” and the reasoning behind that wasn’t in the factor that I would be successful or not, it was more about the vision of following your dreams. Having my mom there to create that foundation for me in the home and having my teacher eventually come along who is sight impaired, he figured out a way for me to compete and be successful in sports and it really strengthened that statement. As a kid, I felt really disconnected and lost, but having that vision is what connected me back to everyone on the face of this earth. Everything that has been created and everything that will be created starts from that. As long as you see it mentally and you put in that hard work and that effort, then eventually what you see in your mind will become reality.”
Find out more about Gillette and his journey here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Astoria, Instagram