As a Guide Runner, Jerome Avery’s Successes Have Transcended the Track

October 17, 2022

When Jerome Avery failed to qualify for the Olympic games in 2004, it wasn’t just disappointing; it was disorienting. All his life, he’d dreamed of being an Olympian. And this wasn’t some pipe dream. Avery came from a family of runners. In high school, he broke the records, running 200 Meters in 21.58 seconds—a title he still holds today. He’d come close to qualifying in 2000. And then going into 2004, he dedicated himself even more fully to his goal. “To train for more games and train harder for four years to prepare, and then you don't make it again, it's like, ‘What do you do? Do you give up on your dream?’”

Avery was considering his options when a friend he was training with mentioned that the Paralympics were looking for guide runners. Guide runners act as blind runners’ eyes, running alongside them, each holding a tether. “I hadn't been around anyone who was blind, so I was up for the adventure,” Avery says. “Plus, my friend said it was a free trip to Greece, which sparked my interest.”

In Greece, Avery was paired up with Lex Gillette, who was competing in the long jump. Avery’s job was to stand at the end of the runway and yell out instructions—”Straight! Straight! Straight!”—as Gillette ran full speed towards him and then jumped into the sand. It sounds simple, but Avery quickly noticed the intricacies—how the wind could throw his voice in a given direction, the importance of choosing the right words to paint an effective picture. He had to be fully focused, and the two had to be completely in sync.

Read on for more.