Lex Gillette’s list of goals is long. Never one to be short on motivation, many of those goals have already been checked off.
Compete at the Paralympic Games? Yep, four times.
Win a world championship in the long jump? Not just once, but twice.
Set a world record in the long jump? His mark of 6.73 meters (22.08 feet) has stood since 2007.
Become a motivational speaker? Check. Earn a master’s degree? Check. Sing professionally? Check again.
At 32, Gillette has done plenty. Yet the visually impaired track and field standout — who’s excelled at the long jump, triple jump and as a sprinter — hasn’t lost his desire to achieve.
“I have my slogan, ‘No need for sight when you have a vision,’ and so speaking about vision, that’s what keeps me rolling out of bed every day,” he said. “I think one of the main things is, I’ve won gold at world championships and I’ve won gold at all of the major international championships except for the Paralympics. That’s still on my to-do list.”
Gillette admits being frustrated last fall when he won the silver medal at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 (in the T11 classification), his fourth straight silver in the long jump. But he’s past that, he says. After taking several months off, he began 2017 fresh.
His first goal is to perform well at the 2017 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships that begin June 2 at UCLA. Those serve as a qualifier for the World Para Athletics Championships in London later this year, where he’d like to win and perhaps extend his world-record mark. He believes he’s capable of jumping 7 meters.
“I’m just trying to focus on training, continuing to strengthen my foundation and getting ready to A, first make the team, and then B, go to London and see about bringing this gold back home,” he said.
Gillette is based at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center (formerly the U.S. Olympic Training Center), so the nationals will be a short, easy trip up the freeway to UCLA’s Drake Stadium.
Gillette has competed just once this year, winning the long jump (6.30 meters) at the annual Desert Challenge Games in Tempe, Arizona. He’ll get in one more tune-up at a meet in late May at the Elite Athlete Training Center.
“I feel healthy, and that’s the biggest thing at this point,” he said.
He says his mark in Tempe was from a shorter-than-usual approach, so he was pleased with the result.
“There are always some things to work on and get better, so I’m just going to get back to the track and work on the speed and explosiveness at the beginning of my run and make sure I can continue that speed through the takeoff board so I can have some big jumps,” he said.
Now in his 30s, Gillette has altered his training and nutrition to stay among the elite. He trains regularly, but jumps just once per week. When he does jump, he uses the shorter approach.
“I’m not tearing up my body that much,” he said.
He visits with the on-site nutritionist about once a month to make certain he’s doing what he needs for fuel and weight control.
“Once you get older you need to be a little bit more meticulous and strategic,” he said. At his age, he can’t just get up in the morning and have what he calls the “hit the gas and go” ability he had at 22.
While he’s continued to work toward the next world championships and going to a fifth Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020, Gillette also has lent his expertise to LA 2024, the candidature committee bidding to host the Olympic and Paralympics Games four years after Tokyo. He’s been on the athlete advisory commission since last year.
Janet Evans, the four-time Olympic champion swimmer who is serving as the chair of the LA 2024 athletes’ commission, recruited him, and Gillette has provided his input in planning for what organizers hope is an athlete-centered games, said Gillette. From what he’s experienced, he believes Los Angeles has a great bid proposal, especially because so many venues already exist.
The Los Angeles Coliseum especially left its impression on him. He recently had a chance to tour the Coliseum and walk the field where the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games were held.
“I was speechless because you know how much history is within that stadium,” he said.
Though he couldn’t see the facility, he could feel its pull.
“I’m hoping they choose LA 2024 so athletes can get that same feeling that ran through my body when I stood in the Coliseum,” he said.
If Los Angeles is chosen, it might even motivate him to put another goal on his list: compete at age 39. It would be tempting.
“I would say someone in my situation, who started as a 19-year-old (at the Paralympic Games Athens 2004), that would be 20 years of competing,” he said. “I feel like that would be a little bit of a stretch. But I just can’t see myself not wanting to make that push and end at home in front of the American crowd.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.