Special thanks to the authors of my wonderful photos: Joe Kusumoto Photography, Joris Debeij, and Alex ingram – Art is Being.
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.
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.
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