Lex Gillette competes in long jump at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
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 championships medals, the 37-year-old found out he was retired.
At least, that was what had been written about the visually impaired track and field athlete from Raleigh, North Carolina. According to the story, Gillette 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 plan to be in Paris in 2024,” he wrote, “and barring an act of God, I don’t see why I won’t be there competing.”
I just ran across a recent article that said “...former Olympic athlete and motivational speaker Lex Gillette”. I will leave the author unknown 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.— Lex Gillette (@LexGillette) August 3, 2022
While he could have ignored the story, Gillette felt it was important to set the story straight that he plans to compete in the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 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 recently told USParaTrackandField.org. “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.
Motivational speaking is what takes up most of Gillette’s time when he’s not competing. 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. “… 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. One of the factors that keep Gillette going is the fact he has yet to stand on top of the winner’s podium at the Paralympic Games. In his five previous trips to the Games, he has earned five silver medals in the long jump.
That includes last summer in Tokyo when Gillette posted a best jump of 6.17 meters to come up just short behind China’s Di Dongdong, who won with a jump of 6.47 meters.
Two years out from Paris, 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. Number one 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.”
Gillette also wanted to see where he was in terms of his overall speed. Though he’s best known for long jumping, he’s also competed in global championships as a sprinter. It’s something he may be open to revisiting in the future.
Gillette’s highest finish in any sprint at the Paralympics was sixth place in the 4x100 in 2004, and he raced the 100- and 200-meter events in 2008. He earned a silver in the 4x100-meter relay at the 2013 world championships and a bronze in the 200-meter at the 2011 world championships as well.
“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 Games take place, Gillette will be just a few months away from turning 40. He is already hearing jokes from his teammates that it’s time for him to pick up his AARP card.
Gillette has fought through so many obstacles since he began losing his sight as an 8-year-old from retinal detachment; aging will be just another roadblock he attempts to leap over.
When Gillette was asked what he’s accomplished that has surprised him, his answer had nothing to do with any of his achievements on the track.
“The first time 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. …
“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 to, I’m going challenge myself,” Gillette recalled telling himself. “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.’”