Soaring Toward Tokyo

Best

by Lex Gillette

While baseball is a game of averages and football is played 60 minutes at a time, the long jump really is broken down by one simple column on the leaderboard, “Best.”

“Best” is the distance of your longest jump that day. That’s it!

If the number you post in the Best column is higher than everybody else’s, you’ve won. It’s one of the things I love about my sport. You’re judged solely by your greatest work.

Recently, at the 2019 World Championships in Dubai, I came away with the gold medal and a Championship Record of 6.45 meters, a little over 21 feet. But I also had the second shortest jump of the competition. In fact, that was my first attempt. You want to talk about a rocky start. Sheesh!

But I knew, even after that terrible jump, that I still had an opportunity to put forth my best jump.

The Competition

In the long jump, you initially get three attempts. After your third attempt, the top eight marks move on to the final round, and the competitors with those marks receive three additional jumps.

Now, the interesting thing is that of the eight who make it to the final round, all jumps are a part of the decision-making process. If you had your best jump of the competition on your second attempt, and that just so happened to be the best jump out of the six, then that is still your best for the day.

Indeed, like the sports mentioned before, my best was THE best for the day. My second and third best jumps were the 10th and 11th best jumps, respectively. That terrible first jump? It was the 41st best jump of the day.

If we averaged my jumps, it was comparable to an eighth place finish when compared to the leader board. But in fact, my overall average was the sixth highest average of all contestants. If only the top eight competitors move on to the final round of the competition, and we had gone by average, I would have been in ninth place and headed for the airport at the end of the third round.

That’s all interesting speculation but it all comes down to this:

In Dubai, my best was enough for the gold medal.

“It’s amazing how often opportunity is disguised as hard work.”

I’ve found some variations on this quote, but this is the one I’ve always heard, and the long jump is the perfect expression of how I view opportunity.

Like I said above, for each competition, you are only judged by your best number. I’m very fortunate to have posted good numbers in many of those boxes. But here’s the thing.

That’s not by accident.

That’s not luck.

I worked for those opportunities. I perfected my timing. I determined the ideal number of steps in my run. I practiced my form, my reach and my landings. I did countless box jumps and sprints and cleans and squats. I showed up time and time again to be prepared for my opportunity in each and every competition.

When you put the work in, you will have more opportunities. There’s just no getting around it. And the more opportunities you take advantage of, the more you, and everyone else, will see how you get it done when it matters most.

When your best isn’t THE best

Winning a medal at the Paralympic Games, it takes dedication, it takes some commitment, it takes seriousness. It’s definitely not an environment made for messing around.

You have to go out there and compete to the best of your ability. You’re going against athletes from all over the world, and that medal means something. Getting on that podium, that means something for your country, for yourself, for your family. It’s an achievement. It’s a huge accomplishment.

At the Paralympic Games, the ultimate Paralympic competition, I have won a Silver Medal in 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. I’ve been to all the major international competitions since 2004, and I’ve won gold at every other competition.

Having the opportunity to go to Tokyo this year is very important to me. It’s a checkmark that I haven’t been able to put in that box yet. I want that opportunity. I want to know what that feeling is like, to stand at the top of the podium at the Paralympic Games with a Gold Medal around my neck and the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ playing over the loudspeakers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely proud of all four of those silver medals.

But I know I’d feel differently if I missed my gold medal opportunity because I didn’t prepare enough, or I didn’t apply myself. I didn’t train hard enough, or I didn’t do precisely what was outlined on the weight room regimen each day.

I know I’d be disappointed in myself if I ate junk food five or six times a week, didn’t fuel my body properly, or if I didn’t get enough sleep the night before a competition. Those would be things I could easily look back on and say, “Hey, I need to work on that” or “That’s why I don’t have Gold.”

But that’s not what happened. I put in the work. My best in those four competitions was, on average, five inches too short.

Am I okay with that? No. The competitor in me is going to Tokyo, my fifth Paralympic Games, and I’m getting gold. I’m continuing to put in the work for another opportunity to do that.

But can I live with that? Yes. But only because I know I put in the work, and I’ve taken advantage of my opportunities.

Incidentally, it helps that my lifetime best is the World Record 6.73 meters (22 feet, 1 inch). I know that in the entire history of the sport my best is THE BEST. (World Records deserve all caps. Don’t you think?)

But it all comes back to that simple principle of the long jump, rewarding our best efforts. Oftentimes our biggest wins in life are less about our averages than it is about putting forth our best effort when opportunity presents itself. So, put in the work, create those opportunities, and give it your best.

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Lex Gillette is a professional keynote speaker, 4x Paralympic Medalist, and 4x Long Jump World Champion who is currently training to win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. He has been wowing audiences of all sizes with his athletic gift since 2004, and he has been inspiring audiences on the corporate stage since 2013. His ultimate goal is to teach others to look past their current reality and challenge them to see further than they ever thought possible.


Photo credits: Lex long jump picture by Joe Kusumoto; Dubai by the Numbers infographic created by EtterOps using Canva

So Fortunate

by Lex Gillette

As I sat on the bench outside a building in the Paralympic village, I listened to an African athlete speak of his family and hometown. I was absolutely astonished to hear what his day-to-day life was like back home.

We are undoubtedly aware that there are places that don’t have the luxury of vehicles, television, and computers, but actually meeting someone who lives so simply and talking to him about his experiences is incredible.

We both spoke of our joy in competing at the Paralympic Games for our family and countries, but his situation was a bit different. How he finished in his events would dictate not only his future but the future of his entire family.

If he were to win, he guaranteed the necessary funds for food and clean drinking water for his family. The only substantial lifestyle change my finish would dictate is what sort of vacation I’d go on after the competition.

I shudder to think of what a poor finish might do for an athlete in a similar situation to his, but I am extremely thankful that I spoke to him. Hearing his experiences cemented one thing in my mind. I am so fortunate.

Do you want fries with that?

Walking into the cafeteria to eat dinner, all I could think of was the coming meal. I had been in the Netherlands for a week prior to the games, and there was no change in the food. We had eaten the same thing every day.

While my team and I talked about the foods we missed and wished for a better dinner, I listened to the athletes around us. I heard cheerful voices and words of gratitude. Yep, you guessed right. Many of them were happy to even be getting a meal.

As I sat there, I was overwhelmed by realizing how powerful a thing it is to have the option of ‘deciding’ what I want to eat every day. Many people around the world live without this privilege and count themselves lucky just to be eating.

Listening to their appreciation for even a simple meal recalled my earlier conversation with the African athlete. On average, our experience here in the United States is so different. Just knowing this, you have to realize that you and I are so fortunate.

Being an athlete

When you compete around the world, you realize that being an athlete isn’t just about jumping further, scoring goals, or winning races. Being an athlete is about learning.

Every time I’ve stepped outside the country in my 16 years of international competition, I learn about others. Through their stories and their experiences, I learn more about myself. The common denominator in this whole equation is how fortunate I feel to live the life I do.

The simple joys of life

Several international competitions have had less than ideal lodgings, and I have traveled to a few countries where the food wasn’t the greatest or might have been outside my comfort zone. (Did you know they eat guinnea pigs in South America? I hear they’re delicious, but I can’t see myself eating one.)

Many of the athletes from other countries were ecstatic to experience simple meals and a roof over their heads. They reveled in what we take for granted every day.

I’ve met a handful of athletes who were desperate to win a medal and ensure financial support for their family and friends. I’ve met athletes who are totally satisfied with a life free from electronics, the internet, and other distractions. I’ve had conversations with people who live life on the simplest of terms.

These are the sorts of things that I encounter when I travel which is why I love it so much. I meet true athletes, I meet people who really know what it means to live life, and I am constantly reminded of how blessed we are.

We are so fortunate.

___________

Lex Gillette is a professional keynote speaker, 4x Paralympic Medalist, and 3x Long Jump World Champion who is currently training to win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. He has been wowing audiences of all sizes with his athletic gift since 2004, and he has been inspiring audiences on the corporate stage since 2013. His ultimate goal is to teach others to look past their current reality and challenge them to see further than they ever thought possible.


Photo credits: B&W photo of Lex by Joris Debeij; Long Jump image by Joe Kusumoto

WORKOUT OVERVIEW FEBRUARY 2018

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!

Workout Overview January 2018

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!