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World champion blind long jumper talks to Otwell Middle School students

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FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Three-time long jump world champion Lex Gillette lives by the motto “no need for sight when you have vision.”

Gillette is blind.

But with the help of that inner vision, Gillette won gold in the long jump at the 2017 Para Athletics World Championships, his third consecutive world champion title in the event.

With a best jump of 22 feet, 9 inches, Gillette spoke about his experiences to students at Otwell Middle School Nov. 9

His athletic story started years ago when he first met coach Brian Whitmer in North Carolina. Whitmer, who now works at Otwell, was the person who introduced Gillette to Paralympic sports and inspired him.

“He helped me get into my awesome opportunities,” Gillette said. “Even though the athletic piece is flourishing and I’m able to succeed on the track, a lot of that success has spun off the academic side. I’m able to use that in a manner that can help me on down the road.”

When he got to high school, he met Whitmer who told him about opportunities to travel the world representing the United States.

“That became my vision,” Gillette said. “I began to train and work hard at track and field, specifically long jump.”

Gillette focused on showing the students how they can use technology in ways they may not have realized. He spoke about an app on his cell phone that helps a blind person see what’s in front of them through the use of a camera and operator.

“The students have the power right in front of them,” Gillette said. “They have ideas to get out and impact the world.”

He was around age 8 when he began losing his sight from retina detachments. After having 13 surgeries, doctors determined there wasn’t anything else they could do. He would become blind.

“It was a tough time, but I had my family there to inspire me,” Gillette said. “They told me I’d still be able to do some awesome things.”

To perform in long jump events, he relies heavily on sound. One person will stand at the jumping point, clap and yell so Gillette knows how far he has to run before jumping.

“I remember how many strides I take, and then I run as straight and fast as possible,” Gillette said.

He said being able to talk to students is one way for him to repay the people who helped him.

“As human beings, we all will have a vision,” Gillette said. “You see that within yourself before you’re able to turn it into a reality as long as you work hard, set goals and do everything you can. You have the power to bring that into fruition.“


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