Blind long jumper Lex Gillette has reached the very top of his sport and is now turning his attention to a future beyond competition with the help of his mentor.
Accessibility and inclusion are at the heart of the partnership, Lex having started to lose his sight at the age of eight, and Laura being single-sided deaf.
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“My mentor Laura and I meet every other week, and the accessibility space is one of the things that we really connect over,” explains Lex, a blind long jumper and four-time Paralympic medallist who first represented Team USA in 2004.
“Even though I compete in an individual sport, it’s always been my goal to figure out what sort of impact I can leave on the sport from a holistic approach, and Intel shares a similar viewpoint. Ultimately, they want to understand how Intel can leave a positive impact on the world.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Laura Barbaro, Lex’s mentor. She has worked at Intel for more than 30 years, addressing diversity and inclusion across a range of roles.
“My mantra is, when you look at the word impossible, it really is ‘I’m possible’,” Laura says. “I encourage everyone to bring their best selves to work every day, and I work tirelessly to make sure that people who have accessibility needs are front and centre.
“Ten years ago, I lost my hearing due to a brain tumour, and I’m now single-sided deaf. Having the chance to talk to Lex has been such a magical opportunity. I have the vision, he has the hearing, and we’re both looking at our accessibility needs as gifts that have amplified and ‘turned on’ other parts of our being.”
Learning from each other
Both Laura and Lex point to the reciprocal nature of the mentor-mentee relationship, and are ensuring they make the most of each other’s unique experiences and skills.
“There are huge similarities between the business and the sporting worlds,” says Lex. “Athletes are intentional beings; we have a goal, we get out there Monday through Sunday, and we have very specific things that we want to achieve on each of those days. Ultimately, you begin to see your vision become reality.
“Business is about that intentionality as well. Being able to bring the same type of energy, enthusiasm and competitiveness to the work environment that I’m used to as a sportsperson gives me confidence for the future.”
Being able to bring the same type of energy, enthusiasm and competitiveness to the work environment that I’m used to as a sportsperson gives me confidence for the future.
Athletes have so much insight into how to help the corporate world understand resilience, possibility thinking and reaching goals that seem impossible.
Laura explains how Lex’s skills and experience as an elite athlete have proved invaluable in a corporate setting.
“The opportunity to understand what it’s like to be in Lex’s shoes has really opened up the ability for me to become an ally for even more engagement,” she says. “Having an athlete who can talk about how you can achieve anything, that the world is limitless, is truly inspiring.
“Of course, we talk about more than just disability and inclusion, but we saw the value of what Lex can bring as it relates to our accessibility strategies. Lex has shown us how to have a vision without sight. It’s really opened up the eyes of our leadership to the importance of how we communicate our vision internally and externally, and what we need to do to be ready for the accessibility challenges of the future.
While inclusion is at the heart the Intel Mentoring Programme, it is also about helping athletes like Lex transition into a life after sport.
“Intel sees beyond the field of play. It’s brilliant,” explains Lex. “They understand that there’s a certain shelf life when it comes to athletics, but that after that time has expired there’s still life to be lived.
“Having a company like Intel devoting resources, time and amazing mentors really helps you establish what your next chapter is going to be.”
Laura is equally positive about getting more athletes involved in the programme.
“Athletes have so much insight into how to help the corporate world understand resilience, possibility thinking and reaching goals that seem impossible,” she says. “We want you to come and be part of that.”