While he sprints toward the sand pit, his coach shouts and claps to offer direction. 16 steps. That is all it takes before Lex Gillette flies. After losing his sight at age 8, Gillette found others’ expectations burdensome. From the classroom to the playground, he sought out adults who understood his extraordinary skills.
Growing up with a single mother who is also visually-impaired, Gillette had an obvious role model and supportive figure. Together, they chose for him to stay in public schools instead of joining specialized programming. That decision led Gillette to an adapted recreation specialist at Athens Drive Magnet School in southwest Raleigh.
Under coach Brian Whitmer’s urging, Gillette joined the track and field team. International competition followed soon after. He joined Team USA for the 2004 Paralympics in Athens where he landed a silver medal. In 2011, he broke the world record in long jump for totally blind athletes, leaping at 22 feet 1 inch. Yet during the Paralympics in Beijing and London, he continued a streak of silver medals. He broke his own world record and set a new one in 2015, so when he arrived at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, Gillette felt confident.
The crowd was too loud.
Unable to hear his coach over the noise, Gillette struggled to time his steps and maintain a straight line. For the fourth time, he took second place. Now, with the 2020 Paralympics delayed, he is pushing 36 years old. Gillette is itching for a shot at the highest honor. Host Frank Stasio talks with Lex Gillette about leaving behind others’ expectations and finding his vision for success.