Paralympic runner continues to seek out new challenges

By Michael Kinney

When Lex Gillette was informed of the news, he was taken aback. After more than two decades of competing, five Paralympic medals and nine World Championship medals, the 37-year-old North Carolina native found out he was retired. 

Well, at least, that was what had been written about the long-time blind track and field athlete. According to a story, Gillette was told in early August, he was now considered a former athlete. 

This all came as a shock to Gillette, who quickly sent out a message on social media declaring he wasn’t done just yet.  

“I just ran across a recent article that said “…former Olympic athlete and motivational speaker Lex Gillette”. I will leave the author unknown,” Gillette posted, “but I’m not “former.” I plan to be in Paris in 2024 and barring an act of God, I don’t see why I won’t be there competing.” 

While he could have ignored the story, Gillette felt it was important to set the story straight that he plans to compete in the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris with Team USA.  

“It just kind of threw me for a loop because I’ve never said anything about being done or had plans to retire after Tokyo,” Gillette said. “So, I just felt the need to be really explicit and, and, and letting everyone know I’m not going anywhere.” 

Gillette doesn’t know where the idea came about that his track and field career was over. He thinks the author may have assumed that because Gillette’s public speaking schedule has increased that maybe he had put competing behind him. 

When Gillette isn’t competing, he is a motivational speaker. His tagline is “No Need for Sight When you have a Vision.” It’s a profession that has allowed him to make changes in people’s lives as he tells his story. 

“I didn’t expect for it to unravel into the many countries that we’ve traveled to and the number of friends that I’ve made, not only domestically, but internationally,” Gillette said. “And a lot of the companies who I’ve been able to partner with and companies who’ve been able to speak to and spaces and places and people that I would’ve never imagined meeting in my entire life. Every day my feet hit the ground, it’s like this is literally a dream that I’m living.” 

Yet, Gillette said that doesn’t mean he is ready to put his track and field days behind him. He plans to make his sixth Paralympic games in Paris when 2024 rolls around. 

One of the factors that keep Gillette going is the fact he has yet to stand on top of the winner’s podium. In his five previous trips, he has earned five silver medals in the long jump.  

That includes 2021 in Tokyo when Gillette posted a 6.17 to come up just short behind China’s Dongdong Di (6.47).  

Two years out, Gillette has already started to focus on his training sessions and what he needs to do to break through that gold medal barrier.  

“I think the biggest thing for me was to maintain speed, to maintain strength,” Gillette said. “I did a lot more running this year. No. 1 was to not put my body through a lot of the stresses that you tend to deal with when you’re jumping. I’ve been participating in the long jump since I was a teenager. So, 20 years ago and that definitely takes a toll on your body. Just trying to be smart and making sure that I can preserve myself and make sure that I can be ready to go in 2024.” 

Gillette also just wanted to see where he was in terms of his overall speed. Even though he hasn’t placed since the 2008 games, it’s something he may be open to in the future.  

Gillette earned a silver in the 4×100 relay at the 2013 World Championships and a bronze in the 200-meter dash at the 2011 World Championships as well.  

However, Gillette’s highest finish in any sprint at the Paralympic games was sixth place in the 2004 4×100 relays.  

“I just wanted to see where I was in terms of my speed and things like that,” Gillette said. “So, most certainly will long jump in 2024. And who knows, depending on how things unravel over the next year from a sprinting standpoint, maybe I’ll try to hop into the 100 again. We’ll see.” 

By the time the Paris Paralympic Games arrive in 2024, Gillette will be just a few months away from turning 40 years old. He is already hearing jokes from his teammates that it’s time for him to pick up his AARP card. 

Yet, Gillette has fought through so many obstacles since he began losing his sight in 1992 from retinal detachment, age will be just another roadblock he attempts to leap over.  

Yet, when Gillette was asked what he’s accomplished that has surprised even him, his answer had nothing to do with any of his achievements on the track. In fact, it was something most people take for granted daily.  

“The first times that I got booked to do a speech internationally and I went by myself,” Gillette said. “It wasn’t surprising in the sense of like pure ability, because I knew that I was able to do it. but I think that it was such a new experience for me. Typically, I have no issues with traveling domestically on my own. That’s not a big deal. I’m in the United States, everyone speaks English. But the trip that I took was from San Diego to Manchester, England. And I think the speech was like in some neighboring city Bolton. I knew that I would be okay because I was going to an English-speaking country. But again, just like the experience of getting on the plane and then traveling across the water and having to go through immigration and are just done differently in the other countries of the world.” 

Gillette, who has made a living giving others motivational speeches, had to give himself one in order to book the trip.  

“I’m going push myself. I’m going challenge myself,” Gillette said. “I think that we all as human beings try new things and you get introduced to this and that. And once you complete it, there’s that satisfaction that you get deep down inside. Like, ‘Damn, I did this. I completed my goal.’ So that was a feeling that I had gotten when I had traveled there. The athletic things do as well, of course. But just pure human achievement, pure human spirit, like the power of it, those types of things are really what make me excited.” 

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