[Lex standing on a stage in front of an audience.]
When I was a kid I purchased a basketball realm designed for the top of a closet door. I took a safety pin and tied the bottom of the net together so that a successful basket would mean the ball would stay inside of the net and not fall through to the ground.
[Image of basketball hoop on the screen with the words “shots in the dark”]
Now, in the beginning, I was absolutely terrible at making baskets especially since I had no eyesight. As I began to envision where the room was, the ball began to go in. It eventually got to the point where I could stand anywhere in my room and drain the shot. What I realized is that sometimes in life we're afraid to take that shot in the dark.
[Image of Lex wearing a blindfold with the with the words “razor sharp focus”]
Envisioning where that rim was helped me sharpen my focus tremendously - a razor-sharp focus is what helped propel me to a gold on the global stage at the 2015 World Championships in Doha Qatar on the morning of October 28.
[Images of Lex jumping with the with the words “razor sharp focus”] ]
I stood on the long jump runway patiently awaiting the audible cues of my guide. He began to clap and he yelled, “Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly!”
I honed in on the sound of his voice and took off in his direction. On my sixteenth stride, I left and soared through the air. Thousands and thousands of cheers echoed throughout the stadium and soon after, I realized my flight would be making a successful landing in the gold medal position on the medal stand.
[Images of audience clapping ]
Triumphs like the one you just heard, result from taking shots in the dark. Now, let me ask you this.
[Image of a track with the words “sight” and “vision”]
Are people born with this raging determination to succeed? Does this attitude come from facing hardships? Do we have to lose our sight in order to see a better version of ourselves, the best view of ourselves? If I had sight, would I still have this relentless attitude or is this just a classic case of blind determination?
So what I have in my hand right here is a blindfold that I'm required to wear in the Paralympic competition.
[Image of Lex wearing his Nike blindfold]
(Lex puts on his blindfold)
This is actually the blindfold that Nike designed specifically for me a few months ago in the lead-up to the 2016 Paralympics. If you're wondering, all athletes in my classification are required to wear a blindfold to ensure there's a level playing field. I wore this one while competing in long jump last month. Just as a sidebar, whenever I wear these people say I look like Frozone from the Incredibles and if that's so, “Honey where's my super suit?”
I can't see anything through these and although it hasn't always been this way, this is how I live my life every single day. So would you mind living in my skin for just a minute?
[Images of Lex jumping]
I want you to close your eyes and imagine your highest potential. What does that look like? What would you be doing with your true potential now? For me, it doesn't really matter if I have my eyes open or closed, but I imagine myself running, jumping, flying.
(Lex runs and jumps in place)
I imagine myself competing in front of thousands and thousands of spectators around the world standing on top of the medal stand with the American flag raised high, winning gold, silver, and bronze medals.
I imagine myself flying as far as my mind would carry me. My high school teacher saw this vision and he helped me see it within myself. So imagine a blank slate. Now paint a picture of you at your absolute best. Months ago, I saw two thousand people walking into Symphony Hall and I saw two thousand people leaving as new artists in the world, ready to paint the pictures that they want to see. Now open your eyes.
[Images of Lex in the weight room with the word “20/20 vision”]
One thing that I figured out is that some people are unable to distinguish between sight and vision. Sight shows us what is envision shows us what can be sight reveals to us our current reality and vision allows us to see past our reality. Vision gives us the ability to see where we want to go and who we want to be. There's a lot of people out there who have perfect sight but they don't have 20/20 vision.
Let me give you an example if when I refused to allow sight to overpower my vision. I refused to accept the current reality because I had a different vision for the future.
[Image of Lex & Wesley competing and Lex jumping with the words “Focus on what matters”]
Last month in Rio, I was on the brink of elimination. At one point, I had one jump remaining and if I didn't land in the top eight, I wouldn't be allowed to move on to the final round so I stood on the track in front of thousands and thousands of rowdy spectators knowing that I had a ridiculously difficult task in front of me but I did not travel all that way to come back to San Diego empty-handed. I could not allow that to happen. I didn't see it that way, so I slid my blindfold down. I focused and locked in on the one thing that mattered most. I ran, I jumped and flew through the air.
(Lex runs and jumps in place)
When I landed, I realized that I would be making another appearance on the podium as I had secured my fourth Paralympic silver medal.
Once I lost my sight, I saw the possibilities.
[Image of a hallway with the words “What Is” and “What could be”]
When I was eight my sight began to vanish before my very eyes and it was that absolute biggest blessing because now I wasn't imprisoned by what is. I gained freedom and seeing a vision of what could be. Had I accepted at eight years old that blindness would be the end of my story, I would have never achieved four Paralympic medals two World Championships, a world record, and 17 national championships. Vision has allowed me to be the only totally blind athlete to this day to ever soar over 22 feet in the long jump.
When I was eight years old, I could see very well but I began to have retina detachments.
[Image of the words “possibilities” and “shot in the dark”]
I've had 13 operations on my eyes, of which 10 occurred in one year. After the last one, doctors said there was nothing else they could do to help and they said I would eventually lose my sight. From that day forward, I would go home, fall asleep and wake up the next morning only to see a little less than what I did the day before it until the day arrived when I woke up and I couldn't see anything. I was faced with the choice. I could either accept the current reality or I could take a shot in the dark. Now it didn't take me long to see that you're all in the dark also, but enough of the blind jokes.
[Image of a Lex with words “blindness was my beginning”]
Even in the blackest of blackest night – okay, enough of the black jokes, - never be afraid to take a shot in the dark. When I think of having courage, this quote comes to mind. “For those determined to fly, having no wings is just a little detail. I'm asking you to take a shot in the dark, to fly and this song by the Beatles illustrates my shot, my flight.
[Images of Lex competing]
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All this time,
you were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.
All this time,
You are only waiting for this moment to be free.
Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly into the light of the dark black night.