What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months ago, American Isaac Jean-Paul lined up at his first World Para Athletics Grand Prix in Arizona, but failed to clear the high jump bar.
Weeks later, the visually impaired athlete set a new world record at the U.S. Nationals, soaring to 2.10 meters in the high jump T13.
The following month at London 2017 - his first world championships - he was at it again. This time however it wasn’t just one world record, but three in succession.
The 25 year old won global gold having cleared 2.11m, then 2.14m and finally 2.17m - adding bronze in the long jump T13 with 6.84m for good measure.
“I didn’t expect this to happen, everything is coming to me so fast,” admitted Jean-Paul, who returns for the Arizona Grand Prix, which doubles as the U.S. Nationals as well as the Desert Challenge Games this year, from June 15-16.
“Last year, I was at Desert Challenge I didn’t know where this was going to take me. It’s keeping me on my toes. Throughout my career I’ve learned to not expect anything – everything is coming to me unexpectedly and I’m taking it on the chin.”
Jean-Paul currently sits top of the long jump T13 world rankings, having leapt 7.17m in April. Not that he - or anyone else, for that matter - should be surprised by what he has achieved.
A keen basketball player throughout his teens, he had not considered track and field until his friends made a bet with him – he couldn’t beat the fastest athlete on the high school track team.
But Jean-Paul’s competitive spirit and natural talent shone through and was quickly spotted by high school coaches.
“I had the fastest 40-yard dash – we did broad jump and vertical jump, and I placed first in all three of them. It was great – the coaches really saw something in me,” explained Jean-Paul, who went on to compete at the state championships the same year.
“If I never made that bet on being faster than the fastest kid in the track team then I would never have done track. By taking a chance on doing that, I took a chance on Paralympics; now I’m here and I couldn’t be happier.”
He competes in the long jump in Arizona, as the high jump T13 is not in the Tokyo 2020 program. With a personal best of 7.62m (set at a non-International Paralympic Committee event), he knows the world record mark of 7.66m set by Cuban Luis Gutierrez in 2011 is well within his reach.
Still, he is careful not to put any pressure on himself this year, even with the chance to secure a second national title.
“My performances have been totally different from last year, I’m definitely stronger and faster,” said Jean-Paul, who is now based at the U.S. training facility in Chula Vista, California.
“It’s always a great feeling to add to your achievements. I’d definitely be thankful for it, but with this sport you’ve got to keep going. It’s like – now you’ve got that, on to the next step.
“You got to keep going. This sport, it keeps on improving. The marks keep getting faster, the distances keep getting further and the heights keep getting higher, so you’ve got to keep working.
“If I go in there feeling great then the sky’s the limit. I want to get healthy, I don’t want to feel any pain. At the end of the day it will keep me motivated to know that I’ve got to be better for the next time.”
As for the world championships and beyond, Jean-Paul is clear. Gutierrez, the reigning long jump T13 world champion, had better watch out.
“I’m definitely coming for him - I can’t wait for 2020 and even next year. I know he has the world record and that’s cool.
“A lot of people kind of doubted me in the long jump (last year) because I hadn’t been doing it, but I know 2019 is going to be exciting. I can’t wait to be better than what I was last year.”