Lex Gillette Video Interview, U.S. Paralympic Long Jumper
Elexis “Lex” Gillette headed to the 2012 Paralympic Games with one goal in mind: earning a gold medal. Gillette is a two-time silver medalist in the event — in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 — so he knew that a gold medal in London would cement what has been an already outstanding career into a truly great one.
Born in Kinston, N.C. and raised in Raleigh, Gillette couldn’t stop jumping as a child. Against his mother’s wishes, he would jump on his sofa and around the living room. When he was just seven years old, Gillette mysteriously suffered detached retinas. He underwent ten surgeries, which were ultimately unsuccessful, and by the time he entered Athens Drive High School he was completely blind. But that didn’t stop him from jumping. With the encouragement of a teacher, Gillette tried his hand at long jump. His coach would give him audible commands as he approached the board, telling him which direction he needed to go and when he needed to jump. The method and practice worked. The year Gillette graduated from high school he found himself in Athens at the 2004 Paralympic Games, where he went on to claim his first of two silver medals.
Gillette has had an impressive competitive career, and he is perhaps best known for his accomplishment at the Desert Challenge Games in May of 2011, when he set the long jump record for fully blind athletes, jumping 22 feet and 1 inch. He is also the fastest recorded athlete over 100 meters. Gillette adheres to the motto, “No need for sight when you have a vision” — a message that carries great significance for the man when he is performing at the highest level.
“My thing that I love about long jump is that I’m able to feel free and open and I don’t have any restraints,” Gillette told Uinterview exclusively. “I don’t have anybody telling me that I can’t do anything. And so to be able to initiate the run and then the jump just gives me a sense of fulfillment, a sense of worth, and it’s something that I’ve been practicing for a while and so it means a lot to me and it’s honestly something that Lex Gillette can say ‘I’ve done this.’ ”
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I think it would be safe to say that my jumping journey started at my house back in Raleigh, N.C. When I was a kid I used to jump off of the couch. I was kind of a dorky little kid. I had Superman pajamas. I used to tie bed sheets around my neck and jump around in the living room and "save the world." Seven years old I actually came home from school, I was outside jumping around, playing, and later on that night I started losing my vision. I didn’t bump my head, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have an accident or anything like that. I told my mom and she had taken me to the doctor the next morning and they said that I had retina detachments in my eyes so they had to have an emergency operation to fix that. And my vision was stabilized for about two or three weeks and then the same problem happened again and I had to have another operation. They fixed it, didn’t work, had to have another operation, another operation, another operation, and after the tenth operation they couldn’t do anything else to help my sight. So, I was kind of forced to live my life without being able to see. And over the next year, I think I was about nine years old, I just steadily lost vision each and every day to the point where I could only see lights and shadows. And so that was pretty tough, but it got to the point where my mom and my family, they sat me down and told me that I still could achieve anything that I wanted to, I just may have to do it in a different fashion. And along that time I started getting my confidence back and went through middle school. And once I got into high school one of my teachers had introduced me to long jump, and basically what long jump is, is you run and hit the board and jump into the sand, so since I couldn’t see what was going on he stood at the board and he would give me audible sounds, he would clap and yell ‘Straight!’ and let me know which direction that I needed to run. And so all of those times of me jumping inside of my house and jumping off of the couch and jumping off of the coffee table, I was able to take that and put it towards something that wouldn’t get me in trouble with my mom anymore. And it just got to the point where I steadily practiced at it and next thing I knew, the year I graduated from high school I found myself at my first Paralympic Games in Athens and won my first silver medal.
One thing that I love about long jump is that I’m able to feel free and open and I don’t have any restraints; I don’t have anybody telling me that I can’t do anything. And so to be able to initiate the run and then the jump just gives me a sense of fulfillment, a sense of worth, and it’s something that I’ve been practicing for a while and so it means a lot to me. And it’s honestly something that Lex Gillette can say, ‘I’ve done this.'