Ezra Frech competes in high jump at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. (Photo: Joe Kusumoto)
The LA84 Foundation’s walls bear captivating memorabilia from its namesake event, which happened nearly a generation before Ezra Frech was born.
For the up-and-coming Paralympic track and field star, the epitome of that gallery is a blimp’s-eye photo showing a jammed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, its audience fixated on the world’s finest jumpers, runners and throwers at the 1984 Olympic Games.
“It was just a photo of our city,” Frech, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, said.
The 1984 Paralympic Games were held in England and New York, but every Summer Olympics since has preceded a Summer Paralympics in the same city, and that will be the case in 2028 when both return to Los Angeles.
Reanimating that 1984 picture is the holy grail of Frech’s life’s work, both in terms of his athletic rise and the LA sporting scene’s evolution.
That says a lot, considering Frech competed in track and field at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 as a 16-year-old. With an eighth-place finish in the long jump and a fifth-place finish in the high jump, he is primed for a sterling sequel in Paris come 2024.
But with LA set to host the United States’ first Games in his lifetime, and when he is still just 23, Frech forecasts a perfect 2028.
“For me, I would be in my prime,” he said.
His aim is an unprecedented “triple crown” of gold medals in the high jump, long jump and 100-meter dash.
With the network he has assembled, he plans to pursue that achievement in front of as many as 3,000 acquaintances. As voluminous as that cheering section sounds, Frech admits it would be a fraction of a sold-out Coliseum, which presently accommodates over 78,000 spectators.
With that audience, he hopes the host nation’s athletes and their guests will “forever change the way the United States looks at disabilities.”
“We have this golden window of opportunity to create change the same way the ’84 LA Olympics and Paralympics did,” he said.
That change will take a mammoth metropolis, and Frech sees his own city as the perfect nucleus.
For now, he stresses there is still much more awareness to raise, and many more wallets and windows to open. That said, the distance he and his allies have yet to cover rivals the progress they have already secured.
LA84 clears paths to youth sports for marginalized communities around Southern California. To that end, it partners with seven adaptive resources, including Frech’s own Angel City Sports, which he cofounded with his father Clayton in 2013. Other notable disability-centered grantees include the Adaptive Sports and Recreation Association, Kids Enjoy Exercise Now Los Angeles and the Makapo Aquatics Project.
The funding, Frech says, is most fundamental. He noted that an adaptive basketball player’s wheelchair can cost $2,000. Javelin throwers requiring a chair may shell out as much as $5,000.
That equipment is essential to one generation verifying the possibilities for the next to see. Early on in his dream, Frech was not seeing nearly enough.
“LA is such a prominent location,” he said. “Why was this not always a huge pipeline for Paralympic talent beforehand? Nobody leaned in.
“Now we have actual organizations with power and influence leaning into an area where once there was nothing.”
For his part, Frech started lending visibility and his voice to the cause the instant he was eligible. In 2016, at the youngest possible age of 11, he joined LA84’s inaugural Student Athletes in Motion advisory board, also known as the SAMbassadors.
Among other marquee events that year, he spoke as one of five representatives in a youth panel at LA84’s Play Equity Summit.
Fast-forward to 2022 and, at 17, Frech is the oldest possible age for a SAMbassador. He has graduated to emeritus status in that club and lends his presence, if not his voice, to at least one at-large LA84 function per month. He raises that rate when his athletic and academic workload lightens.
Most recently, he retook the Play Equity stage this past June, highlighting a panel titled “An Angel in our City: Leveling the Playing Field for Para Athletes.” There he pointed to the previous weekend where, “we taught five people how to run for the very first time.”
The 2022 summit also opened eyes by way of blindfolding, as Frech simulated a blind soccer experience.
Whether it is enlightening the benefactors or instilling a first-time or renewed sporting spirit to a novice adaptive athlete, Frech focuses on perpetuating a “chain reaction” that brings more people in and keeps them returning for more.
Come 2028, he hopes thousands of other Coliseum seats will be filled primarily for fellow athletes that benefitted from the success of LA84. He expects a mass ensemble of Tinseltown talent on the medal table, setting a benchmark of at least 50 to 100 locals hauling hardware.
“I personally know a handful of them,” he said, “and there are so many more that are yet to be seen.”