TEACHING PEOPLE TO SEE

Animated - a series of different 100's

100 Days, 100 Ways Part I-IV

So, Sunday began the last 100 days to the opening ceremonies of the Paralympic games in Tokyo. You know me. I love numbers almost as much as I love gold medals.

Which leads me to my latest list, 100 ways I’ve experienced Paralympic sports, and ultimately, why I love them so much.

Now, I know that sounds like a lot, and it is. I originally broke it into chunks, 25 at a time. What follows is my full list of Paralympic Games great moments, gifts, and influences in my life. I hope they reflect my love of the games and the opportunities they’ve given me. Enjoy!

Lex

  1. The excitement that filled my body as I stepped inside of the Athens Paralympic stadium for my first games.
  2. My mom, grandma, Coach Whitmer, and his wife were all in the stadium to watch me win my first Paralympic silver medal.
  3. The feeling of hearing your name being called as a member of the Paralympic games team.
  4. Going from no coverage in 2004 to over 1200 hours of tv coverage for the Tokyo Paralympics this summer.
  5. The excitement that filled my body when I put on my very first Team USA competition gear.
  6. The satisfaction that fills my body when that medal is placed around my neck.
  7. Standing on the podium, having the flag raised in the air, and hearing the national anthem!
  8. Traveling to new countries and experiencing new cultures.
  9. Building friendships, not only with fellow American athletes, but athletes from around the globe.
  10. The excitement of hearing the news that Paralympians would be paid the same amount of medal bonus compensation as Olympians.
  11. The freeing feeling that I get from soaring through the air in the long jump.
  12. In 2011, I won a bronze in the 200m at the world championships in Christchurch, New Zealand. That was an unexpected surprise.
  13. The excitement of learning that Los Angeles would host the 2028 Olympics and Paralympics!
  14. I remember the smile that was on my face as we rode on a chartered flight to Beijing for the games! I felt like the man!
  15. You wouldn’t believe the amount of clothes that we receive before each games. There are roller bags, duffle bags, backpacks, drawstring bags, and they’re all filled with short and long sleeve shirts, shorts, pants, competition gear, leisure wear, medal ceremonies apparel, opening and closing ceremonies apparel, shoes, and so much more!
  16. I landed outside of the long jump pit during the 2015 world championships, but I got up, brushed it off, and turned in my best jump with the next attempt.
  17. The day that I broke the world record in the long jump was not ideal. I woke up late, had a short time to warmup and prepare. Turns out that wouldn’t interfere with me soaring to a record-breaking distance.
  18. Seeing such high awareness of Paralympic sport in places like the UK is so incredible. I believe the day is coming when America has a similar appreciation for Paralympic sport.
  19. I love the fact that competition gives us the chance to challenge ourselves, to push our bodies and minds to new levels.
  20. I’ll never forget how loud the Paralympic stadium was in Rio was when the Brazilian won gold in the long jump. The crowd was deafening.
  21. The feeling of winning my first gold medal at a major international competition. It was the world championships in 2013. I felt like I had gotten a monkey off of my back.
  22. An official failed to move out of the way during one of my practice attempts for the long jump and I ran into him and tumbled into the sand pit. Hey, I thought the officials were the sighted ones. 😊
  23. I could hear a faint “Yeah, Lex!” from the crowd as I took a victory lap after winning my first Paralympic medal.
  24. A not-so-good memory is when the International Paralympic Committee removed the triple jump from the games schedule. I believe I would’ve won a medal in that event also.
  25. Rihanna, Jay-Z, and Cold Play performed at our closing ceremonies in 2012. Did you hear me? I said RIHANNA!
  26. How about the first time I stepped foot on the Olympic Training Center grounds? I didn’t realize I’d be training there for more than 13 years. Aaaah, home.
  27. One of my favorite times is when everyone from the Olympic and Paralympic teams come together in Washington D.C. for our post-games White House visit.
  28. How about when the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) changed it’s name to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC). That  was huge!
  29. I love the fact that my journey has involved guides, dedicated people who help me achieve my goals. These are special people who I can share my athletic successes with.
  30. We now have an Olympic and Paralympic museum and I hear it’s fantastic! (It made some big lists for best new museums over this past year; USA Today, Smithsonian, etc.)
  31. I love the fact that we’re seeing more Paralympians in marketing campaigns and other brand activations.
  32. I’m grateful for amazing resources like the Paralympic Ambassador Program. That resource helped me and many other Paralympians become more comfortable when speaking in front of crowds.
  33. Each medal from Rio makes a sound when you shake it. This way, blind/visually impaired athletes can identify the color of the medal by its sound. Talk about an accommodation!
  34. I stood in the London Paralympic stadium clapping my hands in a specific rhythm in preparation for the next attempt in triple jump. Next thing I know, all 80000+ spectators began to clap their hands in the same rhythm. I’ll never forget that!
  35. Jessica Long, one of our greatest Paralympians, was featured during a Super Bowl commercial. Pretty incredible, not only for her, but for the movement.
  36. Have you not checked out Rising Phoenix, the Paralympic documentary on Netflix? Check it out please. You won’t regret it!
  37. In past games years, we would’ve had trials in a host city for track and field only. In 2016, the USOPC introduced the super trials, a time where track and field, swimming, and cycling comes together in one city to see who will make the Paralympic Games team. As you can imagine, it brings together some of the best athletes from three different sports in one place, fans are able to see some great competition, and last but not least, the last day is comprised of a celebration for athletes who will be making their way to the Paralympics!
  38. I think about this occasionally, but had it not been for my high school teacher who knew about the Paralympics, I may have never gotten into track and field or Paralympic sport. Thankfully that wasn’t the case.
  39. The medals in Tokyo will have a tactile indicator to help blind/visually impaired athletes distinguish between gold, silver, and bronze. Super cool!
  40. It’s phenomenal seeing coaches out there who not only coach Olympians and Olympic hopefuls, but they’re working with Paralympians and Paralympic hopefuls as well.
  41. To make it that much better, we’re seeing more training GROUPS that are integrated, Olympians and Paralympians. It’s just a group of athletes training to be their best, disability or no disability.
  42. Over the years, we’ve been seeing athletes participate at the high school level and now those talents are securing athletics scholarships at the college level. Super dope!
  43. I remember rooming with Hunter Woodhall in Rio. A high school kid, coming up and learning the Paralympic ropes, eventually gets a track and field scholarship to run for Arkansas. Oh, and he’s the first double-leg amputee to secure a division I scholarship. A few years goes by and next thing I know, the guy is a social media icon. Pretty fantastic!
  44. A great movement always has great people involved. Great ones like Melissa Stockwell, army vet, Paralympic Games medalist, author, rockstar mom, and all-around amazing human being. These are the folks that you appreciate because they help push awareness of the Paralympics to its max.
  45. Thankful for organizations like the United States Association for Blind Athletes. It was one of their sports education camps that got me on my way to the Paralympics!
  46. We’re seeing more adapted sports/recreation programs like AZ Disabled Sports, Bridge II Sports, and Angel City Sports. These are great organizations offering sport and recreational opportunities to persons with disabilities.
  47. San Diego State University now has an adapted sports and rec program, the first of its kind in California. It was started by one of our own, Ahkeel Whitehead, a 2016 Paralympian. Again, phenomenal people pushing the narrative and strengthening the movement.
  48. For all of my track peeps, you know that running sub 11 in the 100m is some achievement, but how about running that totally blind? I can say that I have been in the sport long enough to see someone do it. David Brown, first totally blind athlete to go sub 11, and the cool thing, not for the U.S., is that more athletes are running sub 11 now. Absolutely wild!
  49. One of my very first watches that I received for making the Paralympic Games team had a vibrating function where a certain number of pulses would let me know the hour and minute. Such a creative way to tell time. Absolutely loved that watch!
  50. An area where I’d like to see improvement? Seeing more sporting events that involve both Olympians and Paralympians. I want to see a day where it is known as the Olympic and Paralympic Track and Field Trials, or the Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials. That would be a huge step forward for so many reasons.
  51. How would you like to spend a birthday overseas? I did that in 2015 as we prepared for world championships. I had a great time riding jet skis in the Persian Gulf.
  52. It’s hard to top hearing your name called as a participant in the Paralympic Games, especially when it’s your fifth games team. Tokyo makes five Paralympic Games for me. So excited!
  53. Hard to believe that I had to train in my Olympic Training Center suite for a couple months in the beginning of the pandemic. But you know what, it made me stronger, and that work has paid off.
  54. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger invited every single California Olympian and Paralympian to Universal Studios in L.A. to celebrate the success of the 2008 Olympics and Paralympics. That’s a day I’ll never forget! So fun!
  55. The 2003 IBSA World Championships held in Quebec City, Quebec, was my first international competition, and it was the competition that ignited the internal flame that has been burning within over the past 18 years.
  56. A lot of my family had never seen me compete in person, until the 2016 Paralympic Trials that were held in Charlotte, NC. It warmed my heart to hear my loved ones cheering in the stands.
  57. For years I envied my training partners because they had the opportunity to participate in track and field circuits in Europe and other areas around the world. In 2014, I finally received my turn. Wesley and I stayed in Europe for a couple weeks, competing in Barcelona, Spain, Grosetto, Italy, and Paris, France. It was a long trip but definitely worth it!
  58. The American Council for the Blind (ACB) provided audio description for the 2020 Olympic Games opening ceremonies. In case you’re wondering, audio description helps the blind and visually impaired fill in the gaps during movies and events when there is no dialogue, or moments when specific scenes need to be described. This helps to understand what’s going on fully. My hope is that ACB provides audio description for the 2020 Paralympic Games too!
  59. At the time Oscar Pistorius hadn’t lost a 100m race in quite a while, but my teammate and friend, Jerome Singleton, dove across the line for the win in the 2011 world championships to take the crown. Talk about a monumental moment in Paralympic sport!
  60. I’m honored and thrilled to be on the athlete commission for LA28. Playing a part in shaping the legacy of the 2028 Olympics and Paralympics is going to be so incredible!
  61. A couple days before the Paralympic Trials, I received a call from former Carolina Panthers head coach and current Washington Football head coach, Ron Rivera. He wished me good luck on the upcoming trials. That was just the motivation I needed to secure my spot for Tokyo!
  62. Toyota is making huge commitments specifically to Paralympian and that is something to be acknowledged and commended. They are really moving the needle for us and I’m just glad to be witnessing careers and lives they are changing for the good!
  63. Prior to the 2016 Paralympic Trials, I was invited to throw the first pitch at a Charlotte knights baseball game. I threw a strike! I’m so serious!
  64. I know you’ve heard athletes talk about being in the zone. I was locked in, in the zone, at the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto, Canada. All my jumps were over six meters, I tied my long jump world record, but what really made me proud is the fact that I competed in a combined event. This basically means that athletes with varying degrees of sight competed in the long jump together. I won that competition and even beat athletes who weren’t wearing a blindfold!
  65. Running at the historic Penn Relays will always be a fond memory of mine. It’s an atmosphere like no other!
  66. Spending time with Jackie Joyner-Kersee at the White House for an Olympic and Paralympic event on Capitol Hill will make anyone’s top memories, right? She’s fantastic to be around!
  67. How about my guy Regas Woods hopping on one leg to finish the race after his prosthetic broke during the 200m at one of our Grand Prix events. I don’t ever want to hear your excuses.
  68. We received one of my favorite articles of clothing during the White House visit in 2012. It’s a Team USA version of a lettermen’s jacket. Listen, it’s literally the best jacket I’ve ever gotten!
  69. While we’re talking about clothes, have you ever gotten a pair of Nike jeans? Nope, but I have a pair! Never worn them either. They’re a Team USA special.
  70. The USOPC offers several programs to assist athletes in professional development. For a while I was taking a course to help me create and beef up my resume, and I even got assistance sharpening my job interviewing skills. That’s only the beginning. There’s so much more to take advantage of and I’m glad because they recognize that we have life after athletics. Thank you to the athlete career education program for helping us get off on the right foot post athletics.
  71. One aspect of our international travels that I appreciate is the fact that our team leader usually sets up tourist opportunities for the team. We’ve visited the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro, the Great Wall in Beijing, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Yes, we travel to these countries to compete, but we also get to have a little time to tour and learn about each location.
  72. I’m thankful to the four ladies from SDSU who took a chance on me and helped me build my brand from the ground up. Yes, competing and winning is important to me, but I always wanted to establish something more, something that would help me truly get the most out of Paralympic sport.
  73. If you had gotten one of the best hugs from a notable person, wouldn’t you talk about it? Okay, good. Michelle Obama is so welcoming and so cool, and she embraced me as if I were one of her family members she hadn’t seen in years. I’ll never ever forget that moment!
  74. I recently learned that my high school principal was so inspired and motivated by my book and as a result, it’s now being used as a piece of the curriculum to motivate students who attend Athens Drive high School. That means so much because Athens Drive is where it all started for me.
  75. My mom was the one individual who never gave up on me, so I was elated when PNG decided to focus on her for the “Thank You Mom” commercial that played on TV in the lead up to the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. It would be impossible to pay my mom back for everything she has done and sacrificed, but filming that commercial was just a small way to simply say, "Thank you, Mom." 
  76. Word on the street is that we have fully autonomous vehicles in the Tokyo athlete’s village that will transport athletes to different locations within the village. I’m ready to test them out! (Maybe they'll let me sit in the driver's seat!)
  77. I was nominated as a potential candidate for this year’s Team USA flag barer. There’s still a voting process that will happen, but just being thought of as a potential flag barer for Team USA is pretty awesome. We’ll see how it turns out.
  78. One of my first international competitions took me to Europe, the United Kingdom to be exact. I began pulling out money from the ATM not realizing the British Pound was nearly double the US Dollar. Uhhh, yeah. I checked my bank statement and quickly discovered that it was time to chill out!
  79. We usually get to have really cool pre-competition training camps. Prior to New Zealand’s world championships, we had a training camp in Sydney, Australia. It wasn’t the training that was fun, it was the fact that I got to visit the zoo and pet a koala bear.
  80. Long before the Paralympics, I would shoot on the small basketball hoop in my room. I mentioned this hoop in my TEDx talk. Although I wasn’t training to be a basketball player, I was conditioning my mind to see the possibilities, and that would eventually lead to a career in track and field.
  81. Being a part of four Paralympic Games teams has afforded me the opportunity to go to the White House four times. it’ll be my fifth time if we go this year!
  82. My BMX buddy Arielle Martin-Verhaaren and I went out one evening to take a ride on the Beijing BMX course at the Olympic training Center. Such a great time learning a new sport and getting a chance at riding the bike on the course myself. The director of the Olympic Training Center was not pleased with my risk-taking, but luckily he found out after the video footage had already been posted to YouTube. Ha Ha!
  83. An anonymous donor gifted me with an upgraded global first class seat for Tokyo! Absolutely amazing! I get to fly in style, and I’m hoping that’ll help me fly to gold!
  84. Capitol Records hosted a USOPC event a while back and during that night, the organizers let me play on the same piano that Jamie Foxx played on in the movie Ray.
  85. Shout out to the Paralympic Committee for adding two new sports in Tokyo – badminton and taekwondo. I’d love to see more expansion in years to come.
  86. The athlete’s village at the games usually has some really cool things to check out. For example, there was a recording studio in the London 2012 athlete’s village. I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to lay down any tracks.
  87. McDonald’s has traditionally been a staple of the athletes’ village, but this year we will not have that luxury. What a bummer! 🚫🍔 🍟🚫
  88. Speaking of McDonald’s, I’ll never forget the cheeseburger eating contest that we had in Athens 2004. I crammed a few down but nowhere near as many as the throwers consumed.
  89. If you were wondering, we’re well-protected while in the athlete’s village as well as when participating in games activities. I’ve attended a number of games where we’ve had secret service agents lurking and watching. It’s kinda cool. Makes you feel really important.
  90. There was this night after the Beijing Paralympics when my hometown of Raleigh, NC recognized me for my Paralympic achievements. Coach K was there and received an award as well. We met after the event. I didn’t tell him I was a Carolina fan. Oh, and after we met, UNC won the NCAA March Madness title two months later. Take that!
  91. 14 of my 16 medals won at major international competitions have literally and figuratively come at the hands of Wesley Williams, my guide. Without him I would not have experienced the success I have over the years.
  92. This isn’t the most pleasant of memories, but during our world championships in New Zealand in 2011, we felt a number of tremors. One week after we had returned back home from the championships, a major earthquake rocked Christchurch and literally wiped out a lot of the area that we frequented during that world championships. It was devastating.
  93. It was so much fun running in the Olympic Track and Field Trials in 2004. Yes that’s right, the Olympic Trials! We had a 100m exhibition race smack dab in the middle of the trials. It was pretty cool.
  94. A really great thing that I’d like to see would be having more Paralympic races and events during the actual Olympic Track and Field Trials. That would be huge, and something I’d love to add to my “list of memories.” (But what would I take off the list? Nah, I'll just make it 101 memories instead.)
  95. I’ve always enjoyed the days of playing the piano down in the cafeteria of the Olympic Training Center. What makes it even better is when other athletes huddle around the piano and we sing songs together.
  96. People always ask, what has been your favorite place you’ve visited? I’d have to say Barcelona, Spain. For starters, I was there to compete in a Grand Prix event and I won that. Winning is fun. Besides that, Barcelona has great weather in late May, food is amazing, people are so nice, transportation is easy to use, and there are so many touristy things to enjoy. I highly recommend it.
  97. I previously mentioned my BMX buddy, Arielle Martin-Verhaaren. She recorded my BMX experience and posted it to Youtube. There’s a song that plays during that video and I actually created that track and recorded the vocals in my room at the Olympic Training Center. (Watch again and listen for the song.)
  98. I first broke the world record in 2011. I tied my world record in 2015 but here’s the story around that. We’re required to wear bibs on our competition attire and that bib is deemed a part of our body. The bib is made of paper and we attach it using safety pins. In that 2015 competition, my bib ripped from the back of my jersey in mid jump and when I landed the bib scraped the sand behind me. Since the bib is apart of my body, the officials had to measure the mark that was made by the bib instead of where I actually landed, so that probably would’ve been a new world record had the bib stayed attached to my jersey.
  99. Spreading awareness of the Paralympic movement is very important to me, which is why we began a guide running program many years ago. Through this event, participants get to experience what it’s like to run blindfolded while having assistance from a guide. It’s a very powerful session.
  100. I get asked a lot, "If you could have your sight back would you take it?"

    My answer is an emphatic NO. If I had eyesight, I very well may not have found the Paralympics. At this point, I believe my involvement in the sport has shown me so much more than any eyes could have.

October is the Best Month

Photoshopped pic of Lex dancing with a party hat on, confetti falling and balloons. In big letters, "Happy Birthday to Me!"

A lot of people out there enjoy the month of October because of Halloween. I personally love the month because it means it’s time for a celebration…a birthday party!

Yes, my birthday is October 19, and even though COVID killed any real get-together this year, I was still showered with virtual love and kindness from family, friends, and loved ones (see a couple below). Oh, and I received some awesome gifts as well. Can’t forget that!

There’s one gift that I really want though, and it won’t be ready until next year. Let me set the scene for you.

I went to my first Paralympic Games in 2004. 19 years old. Fresh out of high school. First time in Athens, Greece. Heck, first flight across the Atlantic Ocean. I remember walking into the stadium and hearing the fans, the cheers, the excitement. I remember running down that runway and soaring to my first Paralympic medal. It was silver. Not bad for a first shot. Right? I don’t think so, especially when I had been working with my guide for about two weeks prior to the competition. Of course, I wanted gold, but it was my first Paralympic competition of any kind.

2008 was my second Paralympic Games, and my first-year training at the Olympic Training Center in California. This was the year when Wesley and I began to work together full time. Fast forward to the competition in Beijing, China. I remember being in the silver position. The Chinese athlete was sitting in the gold medal position. I had one last shot to take him down. I took off down the runway. I’m moving like the wind, as fast as lightning, and something weird happened. I usually take 16 strides in the long jump. Once I take that last step, I should be smack dab in the middle of the takeoff board. Well, on this day, I messed up. I made a huge mistake and leapt from step 14 and not 16. This basically means I’m much further away from the long jump pit, but it also means that I lose that distance because the officials measure from where the takeoff board is. I was so sure I would nail that jump and take down the Chinese competitor in his home, but I jumped the gun. No pun intended. I ended my second games with another silver medal.

In 2012, I got injured two weeks before our Paralympic trials. I’m off the track for about four or five weeks. When I finally return, I have about five weeks to get ready for London, my third Paralympic Games. Let’s talk about that injury though. I strained my quad during a race in Canada. I remember feeling the pop. I fell to the ground. I immediately knew that something was wrong. Team USA had me on the next flight out of Canada to begin the healing and recovery process. I returned, took an MRI, and received the dreadful news. A torn quad. Fortunately, I work with some of the best pros in the business, and they whipped up a plan that would have me ready to compete in London. At that point, I’d never really been injured. Although my medical team had gotten me back on my feet, I began to second guess myself, and wondered if I could hit it as hard as I did before. Will the leg give out? Will it affect my jumping abilities? Just for the record, my left leg is my jumping leg. I had injured my right quad, but I wondered if that would have some sort of negative impact on how far I could fly. Long story short, I make it to London. I compete, and once more I land in the silver medal position on the podium. Third time, but this one felt different. I didn’t know how I’d be able to compete having had to sit out for a month. Then I only had about five weeks to prepare for the biggest stage. I’ll take it.

2016. Rio de Janeiro. If you don’t know the story by now, open my book and read chapter 8. By far, one of the most heart-breaking things I’ve been a part of. I believed that was my gold medal, and for reasons outside of my control, I didn’t get it. Another silver medal goes in the war chest.

Panasonic birthday image from Twitter. PIc of Lex and it says, "Happy Birthday to Team Panasonic's Lex Gillette. We hope you're running and jumping into another great year! - Panasonic"

The greatest gifts are the ones we give ourselves…

I’ve been competing for 16 years now. I began training for the Paralympic Games in high school. I’ve been doing this for half of my life. I won plenty of gold medals, at every level: national championships, Para-Pan American Games, World championships. But the one that is missing from my collection is a gold from the games. That’s the birthday present that I really want. I’ll have to wait until August to have an opportunity to get it though.

People ask, “Are you annoyed with always getting silver at the Paralympics? Does it sting sometimes?” Yes! I don’t go into competitions saying, “I gotta get that silver today!” I train to win gold.

Think about it. You study to ace the test. You cram knowledge in your head to pass the bar exam, to get your nursing certificate, or earn your insurance license. It takes work. And I’ve put in A LOT of work. Yes, I haven’t aced my test yet. But do you know what? I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe if it’s something you really want, you go after it relentlessly until you get it. Winning a gold in Tokyo would make for a great story, wouldn’t it?

I received some remarkable gifts this year. But I’m working hard to get myself the gift that I’ve been wanting for almost 20 years…the gold medal and Paralympic Champion crown. When that happens, October 19, 2021 will be a birthday bash to remember!

Don’t Let Life Throw You a No-Hitter

We all have favorite colors, our favorite foods, favorite shoes, and even favorite people. Guess what? I have favorite sounds. And some of those sounds are associated with baseball.

Hitting a home run ball has an unmistakable sound. A batter stands at the plate, swings, and a loud thud echoes through the air when full contact is made. The crowd noise starts off as anticipation. Then, as the ball travels farther and farther, cheers grow louder. As soon as the ball clears the fence, the entire stadium erupts and music blasts as runners head to home plate.

That’s not the only sound baseball gives me. What about the sound when the pitcher throws a dart past the batter, and it hits smack dab in the middle of the catcher’s glove? STRIKE! “Get him outta here!”

It was a no-brainer for me when I was asked to throw out the first pitch during a AAA game between the Charlotte Knights and [the Durham Bulls]. This was my opportunity to create one of the very sounds that I love so much. It was also another opportunity to conquer something new and exciting.

4-panel shot of Lex practicing his pitching, 2 left panels from Lex's point of view as he pitches, 2 right panels show Kelly's point of view catching the ball
Click to watch some highlights from Lex’s practice session.

 

The Windup

I learned that one of our strength and conditioning coaches, Kelly Ahner, had played ball back in her hometown. She offered to help me work on my pitch. (Come on now, did you really think I’d go out there without any sort of practice? Never!) Ashley Renteria, a strength and conditioning intern at the Olympic Training Center, agreed to come out and help also.

This is how we did it. There’s a ton of land at our training facility, so we found an open space, measured 60 feet 6 inches, I stood at one end, and Kelly set up at the other end with her glove. She would yell “Right here Lex, right here!” I would dial in to where she was perched and throw the ball in her direction.

I’ll be honest, the first few times were a little off, but my excuse remains true! Hey, I’m blind!

Seriously though, once I got a feel of how far she was and where I needed to throw the baseball, I began to hear that sound that I’ve come to love so much. Wind up, rotate, release, and strike! Smack dab in Kelly’s glove! Wind up, rotate, release, and strike! Smack dab in her glove!

The Pitch

When the day came for my first pitch, I was a little nervous. I got a few practice sessions in, but it’s a little different when it’s time for the real thing. I was escorted out onto the field and took my position on the mound as the announcer introduced me.

Then it was time.

The place went quiet. The catcher began to hit his glove repeatedly so I would know which direction to toss the ball. I locked in, cocked my arm back, and let it fly. Smack dab in his glove! Strike!

I love that sound.

He Swings and Misses

Let’s think for a moment though. Have you ever had a great opportunity come your way and failed to capitalize on it? Yeah, me too. What about a second shot at something great and it still didn’t turn out in your favor? I can relate.

Guess how many years it took for me to win my first gold medal at a major international championship? One? Nope. Two? Shaking my head. Try nine. It took me nine years, and although I made the podium in the preceding years, I never stood on that top step.

Keep Swinging

How did I keep going? I refused to believe that I would not win gold. I had faith and trusted that it would happen. I continued to fight, to push, and I refused to quit.

If your vision is extremely vivid and clear, then don’t settle for anything less.

Where do you see yourself and your opportunities right now? If your current view doesn’t align with what you see in your vision at this very moment, then you’re not supposed to remain where you are. Believe that.

When things don’t go your way, say to yourself, “This is not where I’m scheduled to be. My vision shows me in a better position.”

Keep working. If the next opportunity comes your way and you fail to capitalize on it, say to failure, “You will not keep me from realizing my vision and purpose. I see something greater.”

Imagine you’re standing at the plate, bat in hand, waiting on that pitch. Failure cocks its arm back and rifles the ball toward you. Strike! The ball smacks the catcher’s glove. Sheesh, another opportunity lost.

You know what coaches say to batters who are in a slump? Keep swinging. It’s the same in life. I’ve swung and missed many times. You probably have too. Opportunities have flown right by us all, right? Guess what? Keep swinging.

We all miss a pitch or two (or nine). It’ll be frustrating. It’ll disappoint you at times but keep swinging. You may strike out here and there, but never allow life to deal you a “no-hitter.” Stay focused on your vision and purpose.

I promise, if you fight through the slump, if you keep swinging, you’ll eventually make contact. Hear those cheers? That’s your success, and it’s flying right out of the yard.

Best wishes for good health, and please, everyone stay safe.

Lex

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: Baseball by Ernesto Rodriguez (@Lernestorod on Pixels.com), video stills by Lex Gillette; book cover photo by Joe Kusumoto.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) 2020

It's Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), and that is so exciting. What it all boils down to is creating access for all.

Like I mention in my video, there are lot's of great technology resources out there that help me. From screen readers like JAWS and VoiceOver to the smartphone app Aira, I can access so much more of the world than ever before!

So, all you creators out there, all you doers and shakers, coders and makers, take a few moments today to think about what you're putting out in the world and what you can do to give EVERYBODY the autonomy to utilize your tools and to share your vision.

And for a great lesson in accessibility, try the T-Base Communications GAAD Quiz.

Best wishes for good health, and please, everyone stay safe.
Lex

A Quick Memory Fix

Email your good memories to Lex at Lex@LexGillette.com.

A quick memory fix…

For my last post, I reminded everyone to take a deep breath to help them with the stress that goes along with times of uncertainty. This week, I want to share another technique I use to keep my spirits up.

It’s as simple as remembering a good day.

Oh, and listen for an opportunity to win an advanced, autographed copy of my upcoming book, Fly! Find Your Own Wings And Soar Above Life’s Challenges.

Lex Gillette Fly!



Best wishes for good health, and please, everyone stay safe.

Lex

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: Video by Lex Gillette, cover photo by Joe Kusumoto

A Message from Lex

This video was recorded on 3/21/2020 in Chula Vista, CA.

Since this video was recorded…

Our big question about the timing of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games has been answered. They have been pushed back to August 24th through September 5th, 2021. 

Thank you for all of the kind messages, texts, tweets, and  comments surrounding the delay. I know that this news causes different reactions from athlete to athlete and it’s tough news for many, but for me, the vision still burns brighter than ever and that’s what keeps me going.

And I ask that if you message me or text my phone from here on out, don’t offer me words of apology. I want to hear your words of affirmation. The way I see it, there’s an additional year to train.

How are you looking at the world today? What words of affirmation have you given yourself during the last several weeks? Remember, your vision can actually benefit from you taking a deep breath and honing your focus. 

So, create your own affirmation and say it out loud. It’s okay. Nobody can see or hear you right now anyway. And it will make you feel better!

Best wishes for good health, and please, everyone stay safe.

Lex

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: Video taken by Lex Gillette

Tethers

by Lex Gillette

Have you ever seen an athlete who’s blind race with their guide in an official Paralympic competition? There are several things that you notice immediately.

First, the athlete wears a blindfold. That is a requirement in Paralympic sport for athletes who compete in the 11 classification. Next, both competitors, athlete and guide, are connected at the hand by a tether.

Back in the day, tethers were made from absolutely anything – lanyards, shoelaces, anything of that sort. Typically, there was a loop at either end of the string so that the athlete could place a couple fingers through the loop on one end, and the guide could put a couple of their fingers through the loop on the other end. This kept the athlete from going astray.

In 2018, if my memory serves me right (Give me a break, I’ve been doing this since 2004!), the International Paralympic Committee decided to regulate the length and type of tethers used in competition. Now, when we report to the call room for competition, identical tethers are given to each tandem for that race.

As you watch that race, you see the tether and you become aware of how closely the athlete and the guide are connected. It’s a relationship that allows them both to pursue and achieve athletic prominence.

Tethers of Another Sort

If you’ve seen me compete in the long jump, then you know that Wesley, my guide, stands at the takeoff board. In field events the guide is not allowed to move. And although we are not physically tethered, Wesley and I are still connected.

I listen to the sound of his voice and the clapping of his hands. I’m listening intently with each stride down the runway. My ear is tethered to his audible calls.

A tether is a symbol of connection. In life, when we’re connected with others, we feel involved, a part of something bigger, and our value increases. Contrary to that, when we’re disconnected, we may feel frightened, isolated, and alone.

Whether we are utilizing a physical tether or an audible one, a tactile one, or even a written one, these connections are important.

Tethers at Work

Imagine that you’re an athlete and you’re toeing the line for the 100m final. You’re blind, and your guide is standing directly next to you. The starter calls, “On your mark.” The two of you lower yourselves to the ground and you place your feet into the starting blocks. The tether is then attached to both of your hands ensuring that you’re connected for the race.

Once everyone in the race has taken their position the starter says, “Set.” You and your guide raise your hips and press the balls of your feet into the blocks.

POW! The gun goes off and the two of you shoot out of the blocks and begin your trek toward Paralympic gold. The sound of the crowd intensifies as you barrel your way down the track. Although the sound is deafening, you find comfort in knowing that you’re tethered to an individual who is guiding you to glory.

Now, you’re a long jumper. Your guide positions you in the correct spot on the runway. Your guide then jogs to the takeoff area that is 100 feet away. A voice echoes through the stadium. “Are you ready?” You get into your starting position, foot back, slight bend at the waist.

Your guide yells, “You’re pointed straight ahead!” From there a loud voice and the constant clapping of the hands fills the air. You take off in that direction. Only this time, a deafening crowd causes you to lose track of your guide. You’re now disoriented because your tether has seemingly been detached.

In the long jump, a screaming crowd can interfere with an athlete’s ability to perform at their highest potential. Most crowds understand what is going on during the long jump and they will accommodate by remaining silent so athletes can hear their guide.

It’s such a cool thing to witness 80,000 people grow quiet. Your guide’s voice is the loudest thing in the stadium. The claps are rhythmic, and they usually echo off the walls. You make your way down the runway, you jump in perfect silence, and when you successfully land inside of the sand pit, the place erupts in cheers. It’s one of the best feelings out there.

Connection

You see it between a quarterback when he throws the ball and it reaches the right spot at the right time for a receiver to pluck it out of the air. You see it between a pitcher and a catcher. You even see it between a parent and a child in the park or at a store. They’re all connected, and it’s more than simple communication. It’s guidance. It’s a common goal. It’s trust.

In business you strive to have a team that is connected. Sure, we’re able to achieve things on our own, but as the Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can achieve so little; together we can achieve so much.”

Tethers come in both physical and figurative form, and they’re designed to keep us connected. Guidance that we receive from a mentor tethers us to future success. Advice and encouragement that we get from coaches serve as a tether to big plays on the field. Direction and insight that we receive from our managers tethers us to professional success.

Tethers.

Connection.

Without it, we struggle to navigate through our lives. Without it, we spend more time wandering around instead of stepping in confidence toward our goals. Without it, a vision cannot be realized.


___________

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: All photos by Joe Kusumoto

Classroom Champions

by Lex Gillette

Six years ago I received an email telling me about a mentoring program. Classroom Champions is a nonprofit organization where athlete mentors are paired with students of underserved schools across the nation. The mentors are responsible for helping the kids learn about pertinent life skills inside and outside the classroom.

At the time, I was training for the Rio Paralympic Games. Although I thought the program sounded interesting, I didn’t think I would have enough time to devote to it. So, I put it to the back of my mind.

Several months later, I received a tweet from Steve Messler. For those of you who don’t know, Steve Messler is a Gold Medal bobsledder. He was a pusher on Team USA’s four-man team that won in Vancouver in 2010.

Steve wanted to set up a phone call. During that call, I learned that Steve was the CEO and President of Classroom Champions, and he was very interested in getting me involved.

While we were speaking, I thought back to the initial email. Emails are often impersonal and just don’t have the same kick that an actual conversation does. I heard the fervor in Steve’s voice, how passionate he was. He and his sister, Dr. Leigh Mesler Parise, founded Classroom Champions and have grown it into an international organization affecting change in classrooms and donating needed technology. He is a strong advocate for the power of sport to make the world a better place.

During our phone call, he said, “You know what, Lex? I really would love for you to be a part of this program. I think that you have a lot to offer the children we serve. I think that you would also get a lot from the program as well. I just feel like you would be a great asset to our team, and we really want to go into schools to help kids to dream big. We want them to see that they matter. We want to enrich their lives and put them in a position where they can go out into the world, they can flourish, and they could be the best versions of themselves.”

He’s the head of this great organization and his passion was, and is, infectious. By the end of the conversation I found myself saying, “You know what? I would love to be a part of the program.”

The Program

Classroom Champions is a year-long program. Each month is dedicated to one skill. For example, every September, we have our goal setting month. We want to start those kids off learning about short-term and long-term goals. Oftentimes in life, goal setting is the trampoline that bounces us up to the next level. From there, we cover subjects like diversity, community, perseverance, teamwork, courage, friendship, and healthy living. We end the year with, “We are champions.”

For example, when we talk about goal setting, I tell my kids about short-term goals and long-term goals. At the end of the video, I say to them, “All right, guys, I want you to write down what your long-term goal is for the school year. Then I want you to write down three short-term goals that you can achieve along the way that will ultimately help you accomplish your long-term goal.”

As part of the program, they either write down their answers or they record videos. As a blind mentor, I love the videos. I’m able to listen to what the kids are saying. Being able to actually hear my students throughout the year helps me out a lot because it enables me to hear their vocal variety, their vocal inflection, how they speak, and the words they say. For me, having that vocal feedback builds an image of who my kids are.

Since the program is virtual, I have a lot of reach throughout the country. I’m located in San Diego, California, but I have had classrooms in Seymour, Indiana; Camden, New Jersey; Phoenix, Arizona; and even right up the road in Los Angeles. I contribute the videos monthly, but I also do a live chat with my kids once during the fall and once during the spring.

2014 was my first year with Classroom Champions, and I’ve been totally locked in ever since. To say that the program is near and dear to my heart is an understatement. When I began to lose my sight when I was eight years old, I totally remember how important it was, how crucial and critical it was to have a mentor.

Nothing comes close to the direction you receive when someone is consistently there and is dedicated to helping you along. You know you have someone in your corner, someone who is going to support you, someone who will take you under their wing, and they’re not going to allow anything to happen to you that would have a negative impact.

I feel that same responsibility to the students I mentor in Classroom Champions. I don’t want anything to happen to these kids. I don’t want them to fall by the wayside. I don’t want them to fall through the cracks.

What I do want is for them to be equipped with absolutely everything I can possibly provide. I want them to go confidently into the world. I want them to realize how amazing they can be in their communities and in their lives.

My First Year Highlight

During healthy living month, which is typically during the month of April, there is a contest. During this contest, specific classes are nominated and the ones that are chosen will get in-class visits from their mentors. That’s an exciting time of the year, and I love that opportunity to go and visit one of my classrooms from the year.

When you work with students for an entire year, you learn a lot about them. You don’t just learn who they are inside the classroom. You learn who they are on the field of play, and they tell you about their families.

They tell you so much information, that visiting them in person feels like visiting a good friend. It brings that relationship full circle. You can’t help but want to see them succeed. You want to see them go out and do awesome things.

During the 2014-15 school year, I mentored Mrs. Jennifer Regruth’s class in Seymour, Indiana. (Shout out to my kids at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School! Although, they’ve probably moved on to middle or high school by now.) Mrs. Regruth’s class won the contest to have me visit them at the end of the school year.

Classroom Champions scheduled all my travel. They made sure I was able to get there safely. But when Mrs. Regruth picked me up from the airport on that day in 2015, I didn’t realize how impactful that day would be.

Before we even got to the school, they had a firetruck pick me up. I arrived at Brown Elementary with the horn blaring and the siren wailing. The kids were outside the school, and they were yelling, “We want Lex. We want Lex. We want Lex.”

At that particular moment, I understood not only how much of an impact I could make, but how much more of an impact that the kids had on me. After more cheering and a ride up and down in the fire engine’s ladder, I made it inside.

And as they have done in American elementary schools since the founding of the United States, we did the Pledge of Allegiance. I was petrified when I heard we were going to do the Pledge, and I was totally sure I would screw up the words. Fortunately, after saying the Pledge for so many years in elementary school, I found it’s seared into my memory. I even remembered ‘indivisible.’

One of the kids from my class, named Faithe, was well beyond her years. Some of the things that she wrote and said were so eloquent and profound. I would just marvel, “Are you sure you’re really 11 years old?” Faithe led the morning announcements for the school. She had a special write-up for me specifically, introducing me to the rest of the school.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, the mayor came to the school and read an official proclamation naming May 18th of 2015 ‘Lex Gillette Day.’ in Seymour, Indiana.

From that point forward, it was a day full of major fun. We played tee ball, basketball, and kickball. We did an in-person Q&A where I got to answer a lot of the questions the kids weren’t able to ask throughout the year.

Mrs. Regruth’s class and I were in close contact during the year. Oftentimes during the week, they would send me a question of the day or a question of the week. I would respond to them on Twitter and let them know, “Yeah, I use an iPhone. I have a computer.” I even answered one of their questions about what I remember seeing before I was blind, “Yeah, I remember how to write my name with a pen and pencil.”

One of the best things about kids, is their lack of filters. They had genuine questions not just about my athletics, but how I saw the world without sight. They asked if I had pets or what my favorite foods were. It was the little things that taught us about each other and allowed our relationships to grow that year.

Oh, and the letters! Mrs. Regruth and her class had all written letters to me and had them transcribed into braille. It was absolutely amazing to feel their words and curiosity for myself.

They were very smart kids. Prior to us really getting to know each other, Mrs. Regruth asked the kids what they thought blind people were like. Questions like: How do blind people live their lives? How do they get around? What do you think about blind people? What is your perception of people who are blind?

Many of their responses were very much from the view of someone losing their sight. “Blind people probably feel alone. They probably live in darkness. They’re probably scared.”

Now in their letters and during my visit, I marveled at how drastically their responses had changed:

    Damen: “When I think of a blind person now, I think of Lex-how he set his goals and he is trying to reach them.”
    Brandon: “I don’t feel that scared if I went blind, because, like Lex said, ‘Blindness just might be another way to see.'”
    Daetona: “I have learned a good lesson about don’t judge people by how they look or why they look like it.”
    Breanna: “…and you don’t worry about what something really looks like-you judge by heart…”
    Isaac: “Blind people can do whatever they choose to do.”
    Katya: “I don’t think you can be blind. You see right through a person- who they are.”
    Aiden: “NEVER judge a book by its cover. I HATE when people are labeled, so I think blind people are the same of me or anyone else. Having Lex made me change my mind about people.”
    Elanis: “There is nothing different about blind people except they can’t see-they can do everything we can do.”
    Rylin: “I think even though Lex is blind, he can actually see with his mind.”
    Savannah: “Now I’m not so sorry anymore. I can’t believe what I can learn from blind people.”
    Brooke: “I learned when you are blind, you can still get around, you just have different tools!”

I still remember very clearly that Faithe had written something that, for her age, was very masterful. She said, “At the end of the day, if you can see from your heart and feel from your heart, you can do anything! Why? Well, the heart is the most powerful thing because without a heart, how can you love, and love is the biggest thing in the world.”

I think that, as individuals and as people, we’ve totally strayed away from that concept of seeing with our hearts. With a world that can have so much hatred, so much wrongdoing, and so much craziness, I think love often escapes us. Thank you, Faithe.

The day I spent in Seymour, Indiana with Mrs. Regruth’s class, was a day of no limitations, no boundaries. Nobody said, “You look like this, or you look like that.” There was no discrimination. There was none of that.

We were just all human beings having a good time, enjoying each other, understanding each other, and learning from each other. It was a culmination of open discussions about the skills needed to live our best lives. It was a celebration of what can happen when you genuinely want to learn about somebody, when you genuinely want to help someone. It was the realization that we’re all here viewing the world with our different perspectives, and when we put them all together, we’re all able to see more.

That’s what those kids did for me in my first year with Classroom Champions. They showed me something that I couldn’t see myself. They probably didn’t even realize how much they taught me. They cemented in me a value I carry on in all my speeches, my interviews, and my relationships…

Together, we can teach people to see.
___________

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: Classroom photo by Lex Gillette; Lex B&W photo by Alex Ingram – ArtIsBeing

My Vegas Adventure

by Lex Gillette

In June of 2017, I competed in the National Championships in Los Angeles at UCLA’s Drake Stadium. That was the qualifying competition for the World Championships which would be held in London.

I thought I was going to have a stellar performance, but it turned out to not be a great day. I didn’t jump as far as I wanted to. After that competition, I felt like I was in question. I didn’t feel confident and was worried whether or not my performance would be good enough to get me on the world championships team that would be headed to London a month later.

Long story short, I just needed to get out of town, clear my head; just get my mind off competition and track and field.

Thankfully, I did have a trip scheduled to Las Vegas. One of my friends was celebrating his 25th birthday. After competing so horribly in L.A., I needed a trip, and Vegas was the answer. (And no, it was nothing like the movie “The Hangover.”)

The Vegas Quest

This was the first time that my friend had been to Vegas. It was him and a couple of his fraternity brothers and me, and I was the only one who had been to Vegas before. So, they were taking it all in, all the lights and all the sounds and smells. It was destined to be a great time.

We got some food. We chilled out. Later on that evening, we decided to get dressed up, go out on the Strip, and walk around for a bit. We walked into the Bellagio, and these guys wanted to go into some of the designer stores there: Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton. While we’re in the Louis Vuitton store, I found a backpack.

Now, I’m fascinated with backpacks. I love them. I think a lot of it is because as someone who’s blind, I love to have my hands free. It allows me to walk around and use my hands and use my cane.

And this is no ordinary backpack. It’s Louis Vuitton. It’s made from gorgeous leather, and I’m touching these backpacks and feeling the straps and feeling the pockets and just imagining all of the things that I could put in there. I could easily take a weekend trip and perfectly pack a Louis Vuitton backpack, take it with me and be a stylish dude, the most stylish guy wherever I’m going.

My friends had been asking about and marveling about the prices all night. Typically, I don’t ask for a price unless I’m really interested. So, I asked. The associate told me and I was like, “Alright. Well, let’s get out of here.” There was no way in the world I was going to pay that much money for a backpack

We ditched the shops and hit the Strip, walking around, seeing the sights, and playing a little blackjack. That was fun, and I won a few dollars. I actually won a couple hundred bucks. So, that’s always nice. Thinking I can justify some more food or even more blackjack.

We get back to our hotel, and my friends’ flights leave the following morning around 9:00. My flight wasn’t scheduled until the next afternoon around 2:00. They got up and left for the airport, and I’m there alone.

Alone with a couple hundred dollars of blackjack winnings, five hours, and a very distinct, tactile memory of Louis Vuitton leather.

To be continued….

The Cane

Let’s back up a little bit. When I was a kid, and I lost my sight, I had an orientation and mobility specialist who taught me to use a cane. He taught me all the techniques I would need to navigate and explore the world.

Now, as an adult, I talk a lot about how challenging it was for me to get out of my own way and actually use the cane. In my head, I was thinking, “A cane? I’m not 70 years old. I’m not looking for my AARP card or my Social Security check. I don’t need a cane!” When, in actuality, the cane was the very thing that helped me gain more independence.

I’m about 6’2”. My cane comes up to my chest. It’s long and tall, but it lets me know what’s in my path. I can tell when I need to step down off a curb or navigate stairs. I can feel if I’m about to walk onto grass or gravel. It gives me so much information.

When I got to the point where I was all right with the cane, and I really started to use it, I realized the cane had so much power. For me, it became a symbol of freedom. It was independence.

It gave me the autonomy to walk around my school, then my neighborhood, then all around Raleigh, North Carolina, and eventually down the crowded Las Vegas strip.

The Quest Continues

I was at the hotel trying to figure out what my next move was going to be. At first, I was just going to walk around on the strip, but I got into this mental space where I could not get the previous day’s competition out of my mind. I could not push back the thoughts about how poorly I competed.

I thought to myself, “Man, you could use some retail therapy.” For those of you who have been to Las Vegas and won a little bit of money, you know there’s something encouraging about having Vegas’ money in your wallet. Sometimes it prompts you to buy something you wouldn’t ordinarily buy.

I remembered that backpack at the Louis Vuitton store, how nice it felt. My friends had told me it was mostly blue but had some red and white on it too. Being a Paralympic athlete for Team U.S.A., that resonated with me.

I thought, “Man, that would look really nice on my slender frame.” So, I get it in my head that I’m going to get from my hotel to the Bellagio, to that Louis Vuitton store, and I’m going to walk it.

But even with my cane being a fantastic tool, I needed more than simple directions from the concierge to get there. There’s this company that I work with called Aira. What they do is connect blind and visually impaired users to human agents via there phones, usually with a pair of smart glasses. This way the agents can see where the user is and help direct them to where they need to go.

I didn’t have my glasses with me (lesson learned: take your glasses to a new city), so when I connected with Connie via my Aira app she had to direct me by viewing my surrounding through the camera on my phone. She was great! She mapped out the route via computer and told me how long it should take to get there. Louis Vuitton, here I come!

Connie helped me right out the door, through the hotel and out onto the Las Vegas strip….in early June. It was hot. I mean, one-step-below-hell hot. But Connie had my back, and we were off.

My cane kept me out of immediate trouble, but there were other things that Connie had to help with. My phone camera wasn’t quite as efficient as wearing the smart glasses. There can be some issues with clarity and depth-perception for the Aira agent, but we were doing pretty well…until the escalators.

I’ll just say that going up the down escalator was not a workout I was fully prepared for that day. A few more little glitches here and there, but I got to the Bellagio unscathed. Then, a new obstacle presented itself. I doubt there are few things as comical as watching a blind man negotiate a revolving door.

I stood there, and I’m listening and listening as it makes the ‘whroom, whroom, whroom’ sound. Every time it made that noise, I knew that’s probably the opening I needed. I finally got up the courage to go. After that next ‘whroom,’ I stepped in there. I mistimed it and got squished in between the door and the wall a little bit, but I was able to weasel myself out of that. I pushed until I felt the air conditioning on the other side, and I quickly stepped out. Now, I’m inside the Bellagio Hotel. Bingo!

Connie’s still there with me, but my cell phone signal wasn’t very strong. She told me she saw the store, directed me there, and I let her go. I walked in, cane in hand. An attendant immediately came to me, and I told her I knew exactly what I came in here to get. She got the backpack for me. I felt it and checked it out. Yes, this was it.

She told me the price. I couldn’t completely believe I was doing it. I knew that I was going to have to starve myself for two months, but I wanted that backpack. So, I swiped my card and walked out of the Louis Vuitton store with my brand new backpack.

Before I could even get to the airport, there were more issues that came up. I didn’t know there was a designated rideshare area at the hotel. I didn’t use any fancy apps to find that information. I relied on asking the people around me, but my first ride abandoned me before I could find them.

Now I had no ride, and I’m thinking about my flight. My departure was fast approaching. I was getting nervous about making it to the airport on time. The thrill of navigating Vegas by myself and buying the backpack was pretty overwhelming, and it’s the thing I will always remember most about that day. But when I finally got to the airport and found out I had missed my flight, I was hot, tired, and just plain ready to go home.

But I had my Louis Vuitton backpack!

The Tools

Thinking back on my Vegas Quest, I think we all benefit from different tools. We all have canes. We have Aira or other resources that allow us our freedom and independence. But we sometimes just don’t recognize them as such.

We live in a world where people are constantly on their cell phones. Whether it’s on social media, talking, texting, or whatever, but your phone is a cane too. It’s a device that can lead you to new paths or even give you a straighter path to your destination. It can awaken you to new possibilities and totally shatter the barriers and limitations that you might have.

Every time you’re at school or work, and you have a pen in your hand or a keyboard on your desk, that’s a cane. That’s freedom. That’s independent achievement. If you write stories, dissertations, song lyrics, or even a business plan, that’s you breaking down barriers. You just have to view it as such.

Grab your cane and go. Grab whatever it is and go, because that’s going to be that one thing that helps you move forward. It’s going to help you see more than you ever thought you could.

You may have books in your room or in your classroom that you have never read. Read those. Those could be your cane. They could be the one thing that creates that path to help you navigate through your obstacles.

There’s so much knowledge, so much wisdom out there. We fail to use it because we look at those things the same way I looked at my cane when I was first introduced to it as an eight-year-old. “I don’t need this. I can figure it out on my own. I’m not old. I don’t look cool with this. This just isn’t me.”

When we have that mindset, we gyp ourselves. We rob ourselves of opportunities, rob ourselves of blessings, rob ourselves of possibilities, rob ourselves of broken barriers, rob ourselves of furthering our visions and shattering our limitations.

It could have been easy to surrender to those excuses and never use that cane. But when I made the decision to see it for what it was, I was able to travel, to broaden my world and my experiences. It’s funny that being blind and using this cane has helped me see so much of this world in such an intimate way.

I think it’s the same for a lot of us. We have phones. We have pens. We have books. We have computers. We have each other.

Grab your cane and go. Grab your cane and go.

___________

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: Rough Landing photo by Joe Kusumoto; Lex Feet & Cane photo by Joris Debeij, Las Vegas Sign photo by tookapic on Pixabay.