With his guide’s voice pointing the way, Lex Gillette crosses the 40 meters in his mind even before he starts down the runway of the track. “On my 16th stride, I jump. And that’s when the magic happens. That’s when I fly.”
Gillette started to lose his sight when he was a young boy growing up in North Carolina. By his 8th birthday, he was completely blind. He had more than 10 surgeries to repair the nerve layers at the back of his eyes, but the retinas had become detached and couldn’t be fixed. Gillette has relied on his mother, who convinced him he could do amazing things.
When his school coach introduced him to track and field, Gillette gravitated to one event in particular. “Jumping makes me feel free,” he said.
At 17, he won the long jump at the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes championships and qualified for the U.S. Paralympic Team. He won silver in the Games in Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. He’ll compete for another medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
His mantra through it all: “No need for sight when you have a vision.”
— Carly Q. Romalino (@CarlyQRomalino) June 10, 2016
Gillette has spent the past several years helping kids hit the books, serving as a mentor to schoolchildren around the country, often through virtual programs. With Classroom Champions, Gillette used Google Glass, a computer system embedded in eyeglasses, to let students experience Paralympic training from his perspective.
In turn, students in California, where Gillette now lives, used Google Glass to create a virtual map to help Gillette navigate the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.
Gillette, the current Paralympic world record holder in his event, plans to bring a scoop of sand from his California training center’s landing pit to Rio. “To be able to have a piece of home with me, I think that’s going to help me out tremendously.”
In Rio, Gillette’s vision is clear: “The only thing on my list that I haven’t been able to check off is winning gold at the Paralympic Games,” he laughed. “I don’t plan on leaving Brazil without a gold medal.”
You can follow Gillette throughout the Paralympic Games @LexGillette. Paralympic track-and-field events will be held September 8–17.