Posts tagged with "equality"

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.