Build it and they will come.
That’s exactly what 12-year-old Los Angeles resident Ezra Frech did.
Frech and his father, Clayton, are the co-founders of the Angel City Games, a multisport, Paralympic Games-style competition and celebration of adaptive sports.
The event’s third incarnation recently was held at UCLA and attracted 250 athletes from 15 states and Mexico to what it calls a one-of-a-kind competition and event experience for youth and adults with physical disabilities.
The Angel City Games, which has received support from LA 2024, which is working to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games to Los Angeles, has grown from a track-and-field-only event with 150 participants to one that held competitions in swimming, archery, wheelchair tennis and wheelchair basketball in this year’s edition.
“The struggle to find athletes always is going to be there,” Clayton Frech said. “But we’ve expanded the competition and have grown this to 250 athletes and we’re continuing to grow. We’re just trying to put stakes in the ground. This community deserves access to competition just the same as a clinic and recreation environment.”
Ezra Frech excels in the high jump and has been inspired by the friendship he has developed with Paralympian Sam Grewe, who won a silver medal in the high jump at Paralympic Games Rio 2016. The two met at a competition in Arizona several years ago.
“In 10 years we’ll probably hate each other because we will be competing in the high jump,” Ezra Frech said with a laugh. “Sam has helped me out with my form and he’s been a great coach to me. He’s helped calm me and has given me a lot of confidence.”
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Grewe, who made an appearance at this year’s Angel City Games, has watched Frech blossom in the sport and set multiple national track and field records in a variety of events.
“Ezra is a really cool dude,” said Grewe, who resides in Indiana. “He’s inspired many people. He’s grown a lot in the sport. I went to Rio and the worlds and he wants to be a high jumper like that. Because of his age, he’s looked at me as a mentor. We’re always communicating and texting back and forth. I see him three or four times a year.”
More importantly, Grewe noted, Frech and his father continue to get the word out about adaptive sports opportunities.
“He’s done a great job spreading the word and getting more people involved,” he said. “He’s such an excited and passionate dude about this. In 2015, he looked like this tiny little kid and it’s been amazing to see all that he can do at such a young age. I knew right away when I met him that this is a character I wanted to get to know and develop a relationship with. Ezra is such a special guy.”
Grewe sees nothing but bright sky ahead for his west coast friend, whose Team Ezra initiative has raised more than $400,000 for nonprofit organizations that support the physically disabled.
“He’s already breaking age-group records,” Grewe noted. “He’s way into the game. He could be seriously competitive in the high jump or whatever event he chooses to pursue. Ezra has a bright future.”
And because of the efforts of Clayton and Ezra Frech, many opportunities have been created for individuals with physical disabilities.
“To me, this shows how much the sport can influence someone’s life,” said Ezra Frech, who speaks well beyond his 12 years of age. “Kids go out there who have never tried these types of sports before. They are able to meet other kids and they get inspired. This is a circle of inspiration that includes Paralympic athletes to new athletes to even spectators. It’s amazing to see how much this has grown. It’s grown so much. It’s cool to look at it and say, ‘We created this.’ We are here watching this whole community come together. We’re bringing the physical disability community together through sport.”
Ezra Frech’s advice to someone with a physical disability who is contemplating trying an adaptive sport is simple.
“Who not try it?” he said. “There’s no shame in trying it. It’s so much fun. You will meet mentors at a high level like I did with Sam. These are people who will inspire you and if you get really good at it you could get a chance to go to the Paralympics. Come out and try it.”
Mike Miazga has written about Olympic sports for nearly 25 years and is the former editor in chief of Volleyball Magazine. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.