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