Exclusive Interview with 3 time USA Paralympic Silver Medalist Lex Gillette
San Diego Sports Domination had the honor to interview three-time Paralympic Silver Medalist Lex Gillette. Gillette became blind at the age of eight years old. He competes in the long jump, triple jump, 100 meters and the 4 by 1 meter relay. Gillette is one amazing athlete who trains at our local Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. The following is a short bio on Lex from his website.
Elexis “Lex” Gillette is the best totally blind long and triple jumper in the history of U.S. Paralympics. He is the current world record holder in the long jump, a three-time Paralympic medalist, a two-time long jump world champion, and a 16-time national champion. He is the only totally blind athlete in the world to eclipse the 22-foot barrier in the long jump. Think all of this came easy, think again…..
David: A big part of your life and your incredible success is your mom, Verdina Gillette-Simms. Where did she get her strength to help you on your journey?
Lex: My mom tells a story that when I lost my sight she started praying to God and trying to figure out how to tell my son that he is not going to be able to see anymore. Somewhere in there she heard my feet running down the hallway. I came up to her and told her that I needed to learn to read using dots as I had not clue what Braille was at the time. She was given a burst of energy and knew that her mission was to help me be as independent as possible. Ever since that day she has been on it.
David: You had your sight for eight years. Is this a big benefit now as you navigate and compete in a sighted world?
Lex: Having eight years of sight has helped me do absolutely everything from an athletic standpoint. Everything that I have been able to see as I know what colors, normal shapes and objects look like. When my guide is talking to me I create these images in my mind and it helps me grasp a better understanding of what I am doing on the track/field. Just living an everyday lifestyle just being able to clean the room or vacuuming sometimes makes me not feel blind. That eight years has helped me more than anyone could ever know.
David: People must always ask you about the technology needed to accommodate your lack of sight in your competitions. Is there any major technology that you use?
Lex: I use an Apple computer and it has software on it called voice over that allows the software to read what’s on the screen. It can read sentences, tell you the names of websites, can tell me what the links are, what the headers are and my iPhone has the same technology. My phone can read my messages, emails and my tweets. It allows me to do normal tasks that anyone else would do.
David: Love your slogan…No Need for Sight When You Have a Vision. Who first coined that phrase and explain its personal meaning to you.
Lex: That is my phrase. I came up with it in 2008 when I came back from the Paralympics in Beijing China. I was in this space where I had just graduated from college and was trying to decide how much longer I want to be in the Paralympics. More specifically how could I maximize my opportunities in sports. It has to be more than just going out and competing. The slogan came about because it was not my sight that was the determining factor in whether I was successful or not it was about having that vision that zest for life and aspirations to bring that vision to reality. I feel that it’s something that was started with my mom by being at home. It’s the things she taught me to be independent. It starts at washing dishes, doing my laundry, those are some things that have helped me out a lot. She said that you never judge a book by it’s cover but appearance is everything. Being able to do my Laundry and knowing that it looks good is big. Before I lost my sight my mom would let me help her do the laundry. She has always bought Tide so I know what that looks like and she would let me pour the detergent into the washing machine. Now as an athlete this is huge as I do a lot of photos, videos interviews I need to make sure that my clothes look good. A couple of years ago I came home and my mom told me about Tide Pods which made my life that much easier. Being an athlete out there working hard/sweating everyday and having to go to many events I can just go to the laundry mat throw the pods in with my clothes and know that my clothes are going to look and smell great when they are done makes my life that much easier. I know that whenever I am in front of an audience telling my story I am going to look awesome.
David: It is obvious you do tons of community service and speaking engagements. Is there one person’s story you recall from all these engagements which really sticks with you and inspires you?
Lex: I am going to go with my Team USA teammate who is also blind Brad Snyder. He is a swimmer and his story is pretty remarkable. He was in the service and got injured in September of 2011 in which he lost his sight. Within one year he turned it all around and won gold on the one year anniversary of losing his sight. I feel like that is a remarkable thing. We have a company that sponsors both of us and just being around and listening to him tell his story. I am blind and feel like my story does not even compare to his. I feel that he is a great person to be around and is very motivational.
More on Brad Snyder courtesy of Wikipedia. Snyder is an American swimmer on the United States Paralympic team who competed at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, winning two Gold medals and one Silver. He lost his eyesight from an IED explosion while serving in the United States Navy in Afghanistan. Among fully blind swimmers, he is the current world record holder for the 100-meter freestyle events. For those who would like to read more on Snyder here is a link to a great Huffington Post Article on him.
Now it is time for a short reading break as this short video clip helps to answer our next question. This video was shot by San Diego Sports Domination at the past Road To Rio event held in San Diego this past September.
David: What is your daily workout schedule to stay in shape for upcoming competitions.
Lex: I usually train Monday through Saturday so I will give you what I normally do on Mondays. I am usually training from about 10 am to about 2:30 pm in the afternoon. We have a short break for food. I go out to the track and get my warm up drills in which typically take longer as I am normally doing my drills, joking around and talking. From 10 to 11 am I am warming up and stretching out. Work out is from about 11 to 11:45 then I cool down and get something to eat. I head over to the weight room for some squats, power cleans and bench press. I have to make sure I get my curls in so I can fill out my tank top. I then go to sports medicine and make sure I can rest and recover quickly so I can get back to it the next day.
David: If you could go back in time and give a ten or twelve-year-old Lex Gillette advice, what would this advice be?
Lex: I would say listen to the people who make you think. When you have someone there that can get your thoughts going to get your mind going those are going to be the people who can help think of different opportunities and those will be the people who will open your mind. I am always trying to learn and figure things out. There will never be a point that you reach perfection. It’s all about growing and the experiences you have that will help us get to the top.
David: You have won the silver medal at the last three Olympics, so how do you plan to earn the gold this time around at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio?
Lex: The first two (2004 Athens & 2008 Beijing) it was a guy (Li Duan) from China that was getting the better of me. The third one (2012 London) I had an injury that no one really knew about. That one actually meant the most to me because I had never really been injured before and being able to go out there and almost win really meant a lot. Now I am feeling great and have not had anything going on since that time. I have not lost a competition since 2012 so I am just trying to continue that streak and make sure that I can stay focused and do what I need to win. If I can do that and listen to the coaches we should be golden literally and figuratively.
David: You have a very sophisticated website and even have those great “No need for Sight when you have a Vision” tee shirts for sale. How can your admirers and fans find this website?
Lex: LexGillette.com you can find everything online on that website. Make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I am always posting stuff on social media so hit me up, contact me, buy shirts and let’s have a good time.
Thank you all for taking the time to read our interview with Lex Gillette. We have posted some great videos of Gillette below of him competing and singing the national anthem at a Padres game.
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