Lex Gillette balances athletics with musical career

By Amy Rosewater | Sept. 03, 2012, 4:50 p.m. (ET)

Lex Gillette knows what it is like to be on a stage. After all, he’s been on plenty of big ones.

The track and field athlete is in London where he will compete in his third Paralympic Games.

But there is another stage Gillette is trying to perform on as well: as a musician. The singer-songwriter already has a song on iTunes. Appropriately, the name of the piano-based R & B ballad is, “On The Stage”. And his lyrics show he has trouble splitting his allegiances between athletics and music. He loves them both.

“When I’m on the stage,” he sings, “and I hear my name, remember who I represent, the U-S-A, who’s at home, cheering on, go for gold, yes, emotions running high, every single stride.”

These days, his focus is more on the track than it is at the piano. He has been excited about the Team USA clothing and is even more enthused about being named a U.S. track and field team captain for the Games.

Still, music is never far from his thoughts.  Not long after he arrived in London at the athlete’s village, he sent out a tweet to his friends back home saying, “this athlete's village is too #sick! I already have a music recording session scheduled this week. what more can you ask for?”

The one song he hopes to hear in London is the “Star Spangled Banner.” After finishing runner-up twice in the long jump in the Paralympic Games in 2004 and 2008, Gillette would like nothing more than to land on the top of the Paralympic podium in London. He enters these Games as the International Paralympic Committee athletics world-record holder, at 6.73 meters (roughly 22 feet). He set the record at meet May 5, 2011, in Mesa, Ariz.

“I won the two silver medals – one in Athens in 2004 and one in Beijing in 2008 – and I broke the world record in the long jump last year so that was a great stepping stone,” he said. “Winning the gold this year, that’s the plan.”

In addition to competing in the long jump, Gillette is also entered in the 100- and 200-meter sprints and hopes to run the 4 x 100 relay. On Monday, he started his Games with a third place finish in the preliminary round of the 200m. 

What makes Gillette’s accomplishments all the more reason he should be on a stage is that he lost his sight when he was 8 due to recurrent retina detachments.

“I vaguely remember what a track looks like,” Gillette said in an interview with TeamUSA.org earlier this year. “I was able to see for eight years and my coach does a lot of illustrating things for me.”

Gillette, now 27, said he remembers watching “The Cosby Show” on TV as well as basketball and football.

“I remember seeing players running down the field, breaking tackles and going into the end zone,” he said. “It’s kind of like a dream that never fades away.”

To train in track and field events, Gillette works with a guide named Wesley Williams, who will shout commands on the sidelines. A native of North Carolina, Gillette has been training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., since January 2008. He is one of five visually impaired athletes representing Team USA in the Paralympic Games.

When he jumps, Gillette said he feels a freedom that is difficult to describe. Not only is he floating, but he takes his leap completely based on faith --- he doesn’t jump until Williams alerts him to do so.

“In the field events, long jump and triple jump, guide runners aren’t allowed to move,” Gillette said. “They have to stay stationary, and he stands at the long jump and triple jump board and gives me audible sounds as to where I need to run.

“We’ve gotten to the point where it’s repetitive and I practice so much on it I can run straight for my approach on long jump. It’s probably 16 strides and that’s about 32 and a half meters. So we practice on running straight and once I get down to the end, it’s muscle memory so I now to jump off my sixteen steps.”

Although he cannot see the fans in the stands when he competes, he senses them.

“I get the most enjoyment out of stepping out on the track and hearing American fans rooting me on,” Gillette said.

And the feeling is strong no matter what stage he is on.

Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for USParalympics.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.