Frech will be competing in the 100-meter, high jump and long jump at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru.
The craziest thing about Ezra Frech’s summer isn’t that he just made his international debut at the World Para Athletics Junior Championships, entering three events and medaling in all of them.
It’s not even that the recent middle school graduate is now a junior world champion in the high jump.
The craziest thing about the 14-year-old California native’s summer is that after all that, he’s now going to compete at the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, beginning Aug. 23, joining not just the best young athletes in the world but also some of the best senior-level athletes as well.
“I was talking to my dad about it and I was like, ‘I was competing as a junior, and that was unreal,’” he said. “Now I’m going to compete against 30-year-old grown men who’ve trained for, like, 10 years. They’re adults and I’m 14 years old and I’m just going into high school.”
If Frech is new to the elite Paralympic scene, he’s no stranger to a big stage.
Frech was featured in a Nike “Just Do It” campaign, and he was a finalist for Sports Illustrated's SportsKid of the Year in 2014. That same year he was on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” talking about his disabilities — Frech was born with one finger on his left hand and a curved left leg that doctors amputated when he was 3 — and how he hasn’t let them slow him down from his nonstop sports schedule that included playing soccer, football and basketball.
The sport he loved the most, he told DeGeneres, was track and field.
He started in the sport when he was 8 years old and his father took him to compete in the Endeavor Games, held in Oklahoma, for adaptive athletes. His mom, he said, almost didn’t let them go because it was in tornado alley in the middle of tornado season, and his dad signed him up for nine events.
“I did the 60 meters, 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, long jump, high jump, discus, javelin and shot put,” he said. “My dad was like, ‘You’re coming all the way out here, you might as well get the most out of the experience.’”
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As much as he liked track and field, however, it was all just something fun to do until he watched the Paralympic Games on television in 2016.
“I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to go to Tokyo,’” Frech said. “I remember it was the 100 meters and I was watching (Australia’s) Scott Reardon win and I was like, ‘I’m going to beat him in 2020.’”
Frech was just 11 years old at the time, still three years away from being old enough to compete internationally at the youth level. Under the tutelage of his middle school track coach, Rasheed Phillips, and his dad Clayton, Frech began to really work toward his goal. He used to send videos of his meets to Sam Grewe, the U.S. Paralympian who won silver in the high jump in 2016, and to 2016 Paralympic long jumper Ahkeel Whitehead looking for feedback. Then last year he started working with LaTi Avery, a coach from another school who helped Frech with his jumping.
Still, Frech said that four or five months ago he never dreamed he’d be in the position he’s in right now getting ready to compete at the Parapan Am Games right after his first junior world championships. At the competition in Nottwil, Switzerland, Frech won the gold medal in the high jump and bronze medals in the long jump and 100-meter.
The 100 was his first event of the competition, and Frech said he was “super nervous” until the moment he stepped on the track. Next up was the high jump, which is his favorite, and despite battling through an issue he’s been having for the past few months where the blade at the end of his prosthetic has been clipping the bar, he won the gold medal. His competition ended with the long jump, and although he was disappointed he was unable to match the distances he’d been jumping in practice, he still came away with a medal to finish three-for-three on the podium.
Frech will be competing again in the 100, high jump and long jump in Lima, and hopes that will lead to a spot on the world championship team. And from there, he hopes, the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“For all this to happen this year, to go from being a junior athlete competing for fun to suddenly now I’m on the national team and I’m going to Pan Ams and then hopefully worlds and then Tokyo, it’s really trippy to me,” Frech said. “I always dream about walking in the Opening Ceremony and then I see myself at the 100-meter starting line when they go through and put the camera on each person and then they put it on me wearing my Team USA gear. My family and friends are watching me on the biggest stage on the planet with the best athletes in the world that only happens once every four years … to make it one year would be like, oh my gosh, the best day ever.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.