I want to win a gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games for Team USA. It’s that simple. The vision is so strong that sometimes I literally space out and imagine someone placing the medal around my neck, handing me flowers, and raising that American flag high for all to see. The icing on the cake would be hearing the national anthem echo throughout the Paralympic stadium. That’s what I want, and that’s what I’m training to achieve. I understand that it’s not easy, but it’ll certainly be worth it in the end. Here’s a little peak of the work that I put in from the month of February. Enjoy!
Nothing excites me more than a challenge. I love being faced with a task that forces me to think outside of the box, and develop strategies to accomplish a goal. After all, it’s through challenges that we are able to see what we’re capable of doing, and who we’re capable of becoming. With all that being said, although I’m a long jumper, I love trying other sports. Occasionally, I’ll grab a friend and we’ll head to the court and shoot baskets. Typically my friends will stand under the rim and yell to me to let me know where I should aim for the shot. It’s pretty similar to how Wesley calls me in the long jump. I’m listening to someone giving me an idea of where the rim is, and I have to focus on where that target might be. It’s a challenge, but I absolutely love it! View the video within this post to see how my latest trip to the court went.
Training for the Paralympic Games is no easy task. I put my body through rigorous workouts five days a week, but let me tell you, every single time that I step foot in the Paralympic stadium I come to the realization that it’s all worth it. This strength training from January is going to help me soar toward my goal of making it to the top of the podium in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. Check it out!
No Need for Sight When You Have a Vision® is a slogan that has been the driving force for my entire life. It was ten years ago when I actually created the mantra, and it was one that seemed to fit me perfectly, but what does it truly mean? Well I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you.
Many people automatically look to the elephant in the room. A person who is blind is able to still have a vision for success and live a prosperous and impactful life. yeah, that’s true, but my slogan is a message that speaks to more than just the blind community. It speaks to all.
“No Need for Sight” literally means that sight isn’t necessary. It doesn’t say “No Want for Sight”. I’ve been blind for almost 25 years now, and there are things that I “want” to see, but do I “need” to see those things in order to press forward in life? No. Needs and wants are two totally different things. “When You Have a Vision” speaks to a bridge that connects us. What happens when you have a vision? You gain strength. You begin to see things for yourself, and those around you, that aren’t yet in existence. Your focus shifts, and you begin to see past your current reality. You become connected to so much more in life, and some of those connections will be to people and things that you would’ve never thought of in your wildest dreams.
So here it is. A vision is not meant to benefit you only. A true vision is meant to positively impact the lives of many. A real authentic vision will help create a community, and help transform the minds of everyone within that community. When you have a community, you’re able to compensate for those things that you personally may not have as someone will have your back. Most people will think that the overwhelming circumstances will weigh you down, but you will rise above them, because of the vision.
When people read, No Need for Sight When You Have a Vision®, they might initially believe that vision is what guides the path of the blind, but keep in mind that there are those who are identified medically as being blind, and there are those who walk around with their eyes wide open and still fail to see. Helen Keller once said “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, and no vision.” So my slogan is a message for us all, a challenge for us all. Whether you’re battling with blindness literally, or battling with it figuratively, having a vision is the key. Can you see past your current reality, your current struggles, your current circumstances? Better yet, can you see past your current reality that may already be marked by success, and see even more great things off in the distance? Your sight may reveal to you images that you may not want to realize, but if you can think beyond the horizon, see beyond the horizon, then you have what it takes to transform your reality. That’s the power that lies in having a vision.
I was cycling through my Twitter timeline when a tweet popped up from Jon Gordon. The same Jon Gordon who has written titles like the Power of Positive Leadership, The Energy Bus, and the Carpenter. The same Jon Gordon who travels around the globe speaking to audiences on the power of positivity. Jon had tweeted something about walking on the streets of San Diego. I responded to him and said, “How long will you be in town? I want to meet you.” He replied to my tweet by saying he would be speaking at the Hard Rock Hotel and would finish at 5PM and head for the airport around 6:15PM or 6:30PM. Not really sure what sort of response I was expecting from that initial ask, but I was pretty stoked that he replied promptly and so positively. See what I did there?
I stay about 30 minutes from downtown, which is where the Hard Rock Hotel is located. it was 2:45PM or so. I still had some appointments in sports medicine that would take up the next hour. I kept asking myself, should I go? Something deep down inside told me that it would be stupid of you to not go and meet this guy. I want to positively impact the lives of people around the world, and Jon Gordon has been doing this for years. This is your chance to talk to, and learn from one of the best. Decision made.
I scurried out of sports medicine back to my room, showered, threw on some clothes, and called an Uber. Hard Rock Hotel, here we come! As we drove on the 805 north, I pondered the things that I wanted to ask. How did you become so successful? What steps did you take to get to this point in life? How can I impact more lives? So many things cycled in and out of my head. The car slowed to a stop at the destination, and I hopped out.
I stood on 5th avenue for a few minutes, and mapped out the plan in my head. Once inside the Hard Rock, I would find Jon, chat for a few minutes, and then head back home. Sounds easy enough. I whipped out my phone and called AIRA, an app that gives the blind and visually impaired real-time auditory assistance from a human agent who can see my surroundings through the phone’s camera. I was on my way. Using AIRA, I was able to cross the street and find the entrance to the Hard Rock. Now inside, I wasn’t sure where to go, but AIRA directed me to the front desk and I asked the gentleman behind the counter if he knew of any ballroom events that had just concluded. I really wanted to say, best-selling author and keynote speaker Jon Gordon and I had an exchange over Twitter and he told me to meet him here after his presentation, but I’m sure the gentleman would’ve gave me the craziest look known to man. That would’ve been a look that I wouldn’t have been able to see, but I know I would’ve felt it for sure. he responded by saying there were two events that started a couple hours ago, but he wasn’t exactly sure which room they were held in. Finally, he told me, “You can see if it’s down this hallway. Go straight that direction, turn right, and there’s a room toward that end of the hotel. If it isn’t there, try walking up the stairs and you’ll see a ballroom on that floor. If neither of those work, then I’m not sure where else it could possibly be.” So many great directions for a blind person: “You can see” if it’s down this hallway, and go straight “that direction”. I thanked him for his help while chuckling in my head. AIRA directed me down the hallway and instructed me to turn right. I heard no audible cues that would resemble an event. It was actually pretty quiet. I hit a u-turn and headed back toward the main lobby. AIRA then directed me to the stairwell that was to the right of the main entrance. I climbed the stairs, reached a landing, turned left and climbed another set of stairs. Once at the top, AIRA told me to scan my phone left and right. My assistant let me know that there was a ballroom not too far ahead. Would this be it? I approached the door and instantly recognized the sounds of plates being cleaned from tables, people standing around chatting, and others were leaving. I stepped inside and stood awkwardly trying to figure out who I could ask for help.
I heard a female voice from my lefthand side, but she was on the phone. As soon as she said good bye, I stepped in the direction that her voice had come from. She saw me and asked if I needed help with anything. “Is this the event where Jon Gordon was presenting? I’m supposed to meet him here after his presentation.” She said yes, asked me for my name, and directed me to a seat. I thanked AIRA and disconnected the call. About five minutes later, I felt the presence of someone walking up. The person sat down and their phone began to ring. “Hi, this is Jon Gordon.” Oh man, it’s him! He was sitting next to me. Jon let the caller know that he would need to give them a ring at another time. Jon said hello to me. I formally introduced myself and we began to have one of the best conversations. I’m assuming he had seen my Twitter profile as he asked me about the Paralympics, training, and life in general. I finally got to my question. As an aspiring speaker, how do I get to where you are? How do I get more speaking opportunities? His answer was very simple. Speak as much as possible. Leverage social media and let your followers know when and where you’ll be speaking. The more you speak, the better you’ll get. Jon then invited me to the restaurant downstairs. As we walked out, he asked if the elevator would be better. I replied that I had taken the stairs to get to the ballroom, and he sounded a little surprised. That made me think of the quote “There’s no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs.” We approached the top of the steps and I felt that he was a little hesitant. I confidently stepped forward down the stairs. The best way to ease a person’s nerves is to simply show them that everything is okay. I run stadiums for training so navigating the Hard Rock’s stairwell was a piece of cake. We made our way down the two flights of stairs and into the restaurant. We picked up the conversation where we left off. Jon then grabbed his phone and he recorded a short interview with me. He asked me about how I lost my sight, how did I overcome blindness, how did I get involved with the Paralympics, and what drives me. Had it not been for those questions, you would’ve thought Jon and I had known each other for years. Time seemed to run away from us, and shortly thereafter, we were in the lobby once again, this time to wait for his car to the airport. I thanked Jon for his time and wisdom. What blew my mind next is that he offered to exchange information. That’s a no-brainer. I took out my phone and that led to another conversation on how I use my phone. As I was ordering my Uber, I showed him how I navigate the different options and select the one that I want. Jon sent a text to my phone. I verified the number with him and he confirmed it was his digits. Boom! His car pulled up, we hugged, and went our separate ways.
As I stood there waiting for my Uber, I couldn’t help but be amazed. The last hour of my life was pretty doggone exciting. I met someone who has a huge impact in the lives of many, and he took time out of his busy schedule to meet with me. He gave me useful tips on how to become a better speaker. He shared the knowledge that he has gained during his career. The guy who speaks to us, and teaches us on the power of positivity, is the same man that I met. Jon Gordon lives out everything that he teaches on stage, and in his books. The craziest thing about this whole ordeal? Our meet up started from a simple ask on Twitter.
I’m sure you have a friend who always encourages you and lifts you up. That same person is the one who challenges you and pushes you to be your absolute best. I wouldn’t be the athlete who I am today without this person. Who helps you succeed in life?
We live in a world where a lot of people desire immediate results and instant success. We’ve gotten to the point where everyone is focused on a sprint, when it’s really a marathon. I remember the days when I desperately wanted to be sponsored by big-time companies. I wanted it to happen immediately. I felt that I had the accolades and resume to acquire support from companies like Nike and JBL. What I quickly realized is that it would take much more than medals and records. It would take a bit of work, and it would also require much patience. Always know that, great things require great labor.
I was asked to speak on Capitol Hill last Wednesday for a panel discussing the importance of early childhood education programs. The idea was to shed light on the need for high quality learning at an early age through resources like Head Start, a program which I participated in as a kid, and how Congress should continue supporting these opportunities to help our kids develop the skills that will give them the best chance to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.
I have vivid memories of this time in my life because I still had sight. I remember reading and writing, I remember learning the colors, and to this day, if someone mentions blue or green or red, an image of those colors pops into my mind. As I mentioned on the panel, one of the biggest things that I gained from Head Start was finding my imagination. I gained the ability to see past reality. I learned to think differently, and think creatively. I think we can all agree that as a blind athlete competing for Team USA in the long jump, I have to think a little differently, right? Right. Those experiences helped shape my entire life, and I’m now flourishing in a world that tells me repeatedly, “You can see”.
I posted a clip yesterday of the quote that states, vision reveals where you can go, what you can do, and who you can be. The mind is a powerful thing. High quality learning is extremely critical for the personal development of our youth, and as we continue to grow and develop, we must make it a daily routine to learn, to try new things, to step outside of the box. Through these experiences comes power, a power that is available to us all. You gain vision. You begin to see past your current reality. You start to forget about, what is, and begin focusing on, what can be. You begin to see where you can go, what you can do, and who you can be. Tap into that power. Now tell me, what do you see?
I’ve been writing blog entries on a weekly basis surrounding my #TeachingPeopleToSee initiative. Now, instead of writing my thoughts on each quote, I thought it would be great to take a stab at recording audio clips of me speaking on the inspiration behind each quote. Check out this one entitled, I Am Not Vision Impaired.
I remember competing in the long jump in an indoor meet eight or nine years after I had lost my sight. We were at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and at this time, Coach Brian Whitmer was my long jump caller. In other words, he was responsible for clapping and yelling so I would know where to run and jump from. It started off terribly. Coach Whitmer’s claps were muffled by cheering fans. We were indoors. His voice was echoing through the stadium. The long jump runway and track were separated by stanchions. I ran into those. I just couldn’t get it together. Not too far away was a gentleman who said something along the lines of “what is going on?”. “This kid shouldn’t be doing this. He’s going to hurt himself.” This is what prompted me to post yesterday’s quote “I’ve had a lot of people say, you can’t, but my actions always seem to say, I can”.
One thing that will never change is that everyone will have an opinion. People talk. They’re going to have their thoughts on what you can and cannot do. Sometimes they’ll imply that you may not be able to conquer a certain task. There’s a saying that I’ve heard over and over again growing up and it goes a little something like this, “I can show you better than I can tell you”. I was 17 years old, competing for Athens Drive High School, at the great UNC, and I believed in something so much that I wasn’t going to allow someone else’s words to impede my progress. For the record, Coach Whitmer and I were able to make the adjustments and we finished the competition successfully with no bumps or bruises.
Who cares what the outsiders say. Actions speak louder than words, right? “How are you going to graduate from college? no one in your family has achieved that to this point.” Bury your head in the books, assert yourself, and soon you’ll show them that celebratory strut across the stage. “You haven’t made a putt from this distance ever. What makes you think it’ll be different this stroke?” Wait a minute, watch this *as ball rolls across the green into the hole*. “Why are you competing in long jump? You’re blind. It’s dangerous.” It may look dangerous to you, but I don’t see any issues with it, ha! You’re going to have others who say “you can’t” but your actions should always say “I can”.