Posts tagged with "athlete"

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.

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.

Live Forever

by Lex Gillette

“The goal isn’t to live forever; it is to create something that will.”

– Chuck Palahniuk

This is one of my favorite quotes, and one that guides my actions every day. In order to leave a lasting impact on this earth, you must travel along the path, bringing others along with you as you move forward.

It does no good if I win gold in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games and not share with an up-and-coming athlete the best practices that will aid their athletic success. Team USA will be around long after I’m done with the sport. It’s only right to help develop new talent so that our country can continue to be successful for years to come.

I have a lot to offer up-and-coming athletes when it comes to training, competing, and (of course) vision.

But beyond that, I am a lesson in longevity and perseverance. I’ve medaled in four Paralympic games, and I am now training for my fifth. At the age of 35, I’ve just brought home my fourth consecutive world championship and set a new championship-record distance of 6.45 meters (a little over 21 feet for those who are metrically-challenged). And I am still the world record holder in the long jump in my category.

Let’s just say, I’ve been around the block.

A pinch of reality and a dash of humility

Oftentimes, highly successful athletes are insecure. It seems they’re afraid that if their “secret to success” gets out, someone else will come along and take their crown.

Listen, just because I give you the recipe, doesn’t guarantee the food is going to taste the same as when I cook it. And if you do improve on it, if it does taste better, I hope you plan on sharing some with me!

Athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before. At the Paralympic World Championships in Dubai last week, there were a total of 43 new world records that were set. 43!

Eventually, my world record will fall, but how great of a legacy will I have if I help usher in the new generation of American long jumpers to break that record?

It would mean a lot to the visually impaired who are inspired to try new things. It would mean a lot to me, to know that I can continue to give back to the sport that’s given me the world, even when my jumping days are done.

Champions are champions because they understand that building well-rounded people is much more important than building individual success.

Champions are champions because they recognize that to help others allows a greater number of people to thrive and operate on a grander scale.

Champions are champions because they understand that legacy has no expiration date. It will live forever.

Lead by example

So, get out there and compose new music that ignites inspiration. Write a book of life lessons geared toward building human beings who value character over currency. Create an after-school program to foster academic excellence in students living in underserved areas. Or simply offer someone an uplifting word they can latch on to as they navigate this crazy world.

Some things are here today and gone tomorrow, but it doesn’t have to be this way. I challenge you to find that one thing that will live forever, and ever, and ever.

___________

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: Infinity symbol by 463259 on Pixabay; Lex Legacy image by Joris Debeij

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

Don’t Go Broke

by Lex Gillette

If you’ve ever been to the South, then you have to know that there are some pretty funny sayings and expressions that are thrown around.

“You’re from my neck of the woods,” meaning that you’re from my area of town.

If you’re like “a bump on a log,” it means you’re absolutely lazy.

“Well that just dills my pickle,” translates as, “That makes me really happy!”

If someone’s upset, “She’s pitching a hissy fit.” If she gets even angrier, “She’s pitching a hissy fit with a tail on it.”

But if there’s one expression that’s universal and decidedly not funny it’s, “I’m broke.”

Having no money is rough. It weighs on you in ways that affect everything from health to education to self-esteem.

Money isn’t the only currency in our lives. Keep this in mind, a lot of people in this world “go broke,” not because they spend all their money, but because they fail to spend any of their time.

You realize how much something is worth to you when time is the currency.

When we look at a day, we’re all equals. We each have the same 24 hours to spend. It’s easy for us to throw money at our favorite foods, hobbies, and charities. That’s a simple transaction, but it really costs you something when your time is on the line.

For the past five years, I’ve been an athlete-mentor for an organization called Classroom Champions (CC). CC pairs Olympians, Paralympians, and professional athletes with students in underserved areas around the country and abroad.

As a mentor, I teach kids about important skills such as goal setting, perseverance, teamwork, courage, and healthy living. Each month during the school year is dedicated to one of these topics.

My job is to record a video lesson and explain what that skill is, how it looks, and how I use it in my life as an athlete, speaker, and human being. At the end of each video lesson, I give my students a challenge, something that they can do to apply that skill.

My students then report back to me on what they learned and how they applied the monthly topic to their daily lives. Students may record videos, write essays, or in the case of my most recent students in Phoenix, AZ, record a podcast. (It may come as no surprise that I prefer podcasts to videos.)

It was really exciting to listen to those kiddos chat about the short- and long-term goals they set for the year, how they persevered through their challenges, and how they thought more about their health than they did before.

Being a part of this program takes time. But you can tell how much this program is truly worth to me when I’m donating my time as the currency. These kids are so worth it. I thoroughly enjoy giving my time, sharing my experiences, and teaching skills that help them succeed.

It would be really easy to throw a few dollars at CC and hope that the funds would do the trick (and make no mistake about it, money is needed). But it’s relationships that make a lasting impact. The time we spend with these bright young minds is what makes a difference to them, and it’s what they’ll remember moving forward in life.

You can make more money, but you can’t make any more time.

Don’t short-change yourself because you fail to spend your time wisely. Failure to give your time can leave you and others “broke.”

Remember, even if you give a little, it means a lot. Take time to chit-chat and understand your colleagues at work. Spend the extra few seconds to ask the cashier how his day is going. Thank a police officer for her work.

And when it comes to the people who matter most to you, be absolutely certain you spend time on them: laugh and play with your kids, take time out of your day for your spouse, remind your family how much they’re worth.

Don’t go broke. Spend your time.

___________

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: Clock image by EtterOps

Catch Up to Your Vision

by Lex Gillette

And in those days, rigid patterns of segregation existed on the buses, so that [we] had to sit in the back of the buses. Whites were seated in the front, and often if whites didn’t get on the buses, those seats were still reserved for whites only, so [we] had to stand over empty seats. I would end up having to go to the back of that bus with my body, but every time I got on that bus, I left my mind up on the front seat. And I said to myself, “One of these days, I’m going to put my body up there where my mind is.”

~ Martin Luther King

Recently, I was listening to Martin Luther King’s autobiography. This paragraph moved me, certainly with its social importance, but there was more to it. There was tenacity and belief and motivation there. History has shown us that Dr. King had commitment, perseverance, and courage. We cannot deny that. All those things became real for me in that final sentence:

And I told myself, “One of these days I’m going to put my body up there where my mind is.”

How powerful is that?

Vision and action

I’m a huge believer in vision. Vision allows us to see things that aren’t yet in existence. It’s in my tag line. My speeches are centered on vision and how to take action. I use vision as an athlete, and I consider it essential to motivation.

Listen, everyone has visions, desires, and aspirations. For most people however, there is a gap between where their minds are, and where their bodies are.

To achieve these things and close that gap, you need to put forth effort. I’m not trying to scare you; striving for something more is scary enough on its own. But you need to know that it takes a lot. It will not come without effort.

Think about all it took for Martin Luther King to help push equality forward. Clearly, he had a vision, and he helped change the entire landscape of our country. He didn’t sit around doing nothing. He worked tirelessly, sacrificed, and put it all on the line.

Here’s the thing. He may not have been able to see all the fruits of his labor, but you cannot say he lacked vision or motivation. Certainly, he opened up that front seat for others.

Play catch up

We must catch up to where our minds are. We’re thinking five, ten, twenty years ahead and that’s a good thing. But it does no good to just think about it. Vision is nothing if we don’t act.

My mind is on winning gold in Tokyo next summer. I’m putting in the effort I need to put my body on the top of that medal stand because that is where my mind is.

If you want to know what that effort looks like, it’s five days of training a week with three to four hours each day. And I don’t just jump. I run 150-meter sprints or 80-meter uphill sprints or I do hundreds of repetitions for my abs. I go to the weight room and do power cleans, squats, weighted box jumps, single leg box jumps, leg presses, calf raises, and medicine ball throws. I do my best to consume the right foods, and get the appropriate amount of rest and sleep.

My effort is specific and intentional, and that’s what I need to do to close that gap.

Your mind is on Wall Street. Catch up to where your mind is.

Your mind is on creating an innovative piece of technology that will change how we live and think. Get up. It’s go-time.

Your mind is on being the first to do something that has never been done. Catch up to it.

Wherever your mind is, get your body there. The time is now. Let’s 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: B&W photo of Lex by Alex Ingram at Art Is Being; vector drawing of MLK from Pixabay

It’s Okay to Fail

by Lex Gillette

I was listening to a YouTube video recently where successful people were giving their insight into how we acquire success. Spanx founder Sara Blakely spoke about a regular conversation she would have with her dad.

He would ask her weekly, if not daily, “What did you fail at today?” He was often disappointed if she didn’t have an answer. However, she eventually encountered failures each and every day. The two of them would talk about each of those daily failures and they would celebrate them with smiles and high fives. Often, they even laughed about them.

Her dad knew that if his daughter wasn’t failing at something, she wasn’t putting forth enough effort, and she was taking no risks. She goes on to say that it altered her definition of failure to mean a lack of effort. What a great lesson for a child with so much promise. What a great lesson for all of us!

Unfortunately, we live in a time where failing is looked down upon. It’s a problem when we mess up. Consequently, most people are now afraid to fail, afraid to make a mistake, afraid to be vulnerable.

Our society sheds more light on the wins, the victories, the successes. We give more attention to the winner, and not the person who comes up just short. We give business owners amazing praise for increasing their company’s revenue in each quarter of the year. We’re amazed with a coach’s ability to lead their team to a perfect record in an NFL season. It looks bad if my record has a blemish or two on it.

What’s wrong with failure?

First, failure hurts. It doesn’t feel good to work hard and not get the result you want. This is readily evident in the sports arena. Second place is often far more painful than third place.

Secondly, we’re conditioned to believe that it is a problem when we fall short. A quote I recently posted in my social media reads, “It’s okay to fail, but giving up? That cannot be the option.” You’re going to fail at something. That’s inevitable, but you cannot quit. Failure paves the way to a better life.

I have failed

I began competing in the long jump as a junior for the Jaguars of Athens Drive High School. From that point, do you know how many years it took for me to win my first gold medal in a major international competition? Eleven. In all those years, do you think I never missed the sand pit at the end of a jump? (That hurts just thinking about it.) Do you know how my career was faring all that time? I tried my best, trained my hardest, believed in myself with all of my heart, but I came up just short of gold time and time again.

What kept me going was knowing that one day I would stand at the top of the podium. Not only did I realize that I would stand on the top step, but I knew that I would experience a lot of failure before I got to that point.

It’s okay to fail. All the most profitable and successful people in the world have failed at some point, but they learned something each time. I urge you to point out those moments when you’ve failed. Shed light on them and then figure out a way to overcome them.

Right that wrong.

Don’t be afraid.

Don’t feel embarrassed.

It is through failure that we’re able to realize our wildest dreams.

___________

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 credit: Lex missing the pit edited by EtterOps from footage in P&G promotion at https://www.ispot.tv/ad/AC51/procter-and-gamble-raising-an-olympian-lex-gillette.