A silver pendant hangs around his neck. It's not the only medal he's won for our country. He's got more gold and silver than a king–world records to back it all up. Lex Gillette, my high school track teammate, just won a silver medal in the long jump at the 2016 Paralympics. It's his fourth consecutive silver for his main event during at the Paralympics. On the podium, he smiles because his road to Rio wasn't easy.
Close your eyes. This is what Lex sees. Even when his eyes are wide open. And even so, even in this darkness, Lex finds light and leaps for it. His guide and partner waits for him at the long jump pit by the track while Lex begins to run. His partner yells: FLY FLY FLY. Lex listens to the closeness of the word using the sound to hear his way to the jump board. When he finds comfort in the closeness of the vibrations he hears, Lex follows orders. He flies. There is no fear. There can't be. Just flight.
Lex's body floats for 22 feet. He's like a leaf riding the wave of the wind–gentle–but like a machine gun–loaded and cocked–ready for battle. There is total control of every movement. Thought behind each stride, each breath. There is a vision.
Looking back, I can remember Lex talking to me after track practice. He traced back to when he was a little boy–the time before, the time when he could see. And vividly, he can recount his loss. Just like that his sight deteriorated at the age of eight. Ten surgeries wouldn't bring it back.
Despite becoming blind, his mom was determined Lex wouldn't be different. By the time Lex got to high school, however, he decided he actually would be different. He wouldn't just fit in. Average would have been easy. Lex would turn out to be extraordinary–to achieve greater acknowledgments, awards and records than anyone in the history of our high school ever would.
Lex was the guy who sat near me in Ms. Pratt's science class. He was the guy who always got the highest grades on geometry tests (we all knew because our grades were posted on the back wall). He was the guy who ran, jumped with the rest of us. He was the guy who took life seriously in that he gave it all he had but who took life lightly making jokes about how bright it was that day just to see if anyone noticed he couldn't actually see the sun like the rest of us. This was Lex. And now when I look at him from my living room on TV, I see someone who is still living the dream the rest of our team left on the track our senior year.
Hindsight is 20/20. No one can see their own future–blind or not. And looking back, well there's no point. We're here now. And things won't always go our way. There will be things that change us. We might lose our job, crash our car, sprain an ankle, lose our sight. These are the things that could defeat us. They're the things that kill us inside, make us cry.
But what are we going to do with all of that fear? What are we going to do with all of that pain? These are the things–the decisions–that take us to the edge. They're what push our limits to see how far we will go to find greatness. To prove to the world that this thing that caused us fear, that caused us pain is no longer fear or pain, it is a jumping board, our last step before flight.
In each day, in life, there are hurdles. But they're not walls. With effort, with thought, with precision, we can rise above them just like Lex who coined the phrase, "No need for sight when you have a vision."
We can curse our circumstances or we can choose to rise above them–fight for flight.
Close your eyes. See yourself for who you really are. This is where our dreams are made. This place, deep down, that's you. Who do you see?