paralympics

How a father-son trip sparked Paralympian Ezra Frech's love for track and field

When Ezra Frech was 8 years old, his father took him to Oklahoma for his first adaptive sports competition.

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Clayton Frech thought one of his dreams as a parent was gone.

A surfer from Santa Barbara, California, Frech had imagined a future where he would ride waves in the ocean with his kids. But he initially didn't think that would be possible with his son, Ezra.

That's because Ezra was born congenital limb differences, missing his left knee, left fibula and four fingers on his left hand. He underwent an amputation of his left leg and had one of the toes from his amputated foot transplanted to his left hand.

Ezra received his first prosthetic leg at 11 months old.

"I didn't think I could surf with my kid," Clayton told NBC. "I would go surf and I would just cry in the water, processing what I perceived as my loss."

In reality, Clayton’s dream was still very much attainable. He just hadn’t been introduced to the world of adaptive sports yet.

"I didn't know there was adaptive surfing," he said. "I didn't know there was any of this stuff."

Ezra took part in his first adaptive sports competition when he was 8 years old, but it wasn't surfing. Rather, Clayton and Ezra traveled from their Los Angeles residence to Oklahoma for a track and field competition.

"He doesn't know how to do any of these sports," Clayton recounted, "because what 8-year-old does track and field?"

Ezra, however, quickly proved to be a natural. Despite his lack of experience, he broke the national long jump record at the competition.

The record leap was a life-shaping moment for Ezra, who had suddenly discovered a newfound passion.

"I broke the national record and got so excited that I went to do it again and then went to do it again," Ezra told NBC. "That love for pushing myself just a couple of centimeters further or higher sparked my love for the sport."

Ezra grew up playing several sports -- from basketball to football and even surfing -- but he knew from a young age his future was in track and field. He described having an out-of-body experience of sorts while watching the 2016 Rio Paralympics where he felt like the universe was telling him: "This is your calling."

Ezra, who was a preteen at the time, then informed his family, friends and "anyone he could talk to" that he was going to make Team USA's Paralympic roster for the 2020 Tokyo Games. And that childhood dream eventually turned into reality.

Five years later, Ezra recorded his Paralympic debut as a 16-year-old at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games, competing in the high and long jumps. He finished fifth in the high jump and eighth in the long jump.

While he didn't earn a medal in Tokyo, Ezra didn't have to wait too long for his breakout moment on an international stage.

Just a month after graduating from high school in 2023, he set a new world record in the high jump T63 two different times at the World Para Athletics Championships in Paris. His best leap of 1.95 meters earned him his first world title.

"It's so incredible for me to think about where he's come as this kid that I thought couldn't even surf and the kid can do anything, frankly, better than me in most cases," Clayton said.

Ezra, now 19, took a gap year following his high school graduation to prepare for the 2024 Paris Games. This past February, he became the first above-the-knee amputee to commit to a Division I track and field program after announcing he would attend USC.

Before suiting up for the Trojans, though, Ezra hopes to pick up a few Paralympic medals. His goals for Paris include winning gold in the high jump, earning a medal in the long jump and making the podium in the 100 meters -- an event he'll be making his Paralympic debut in.

Just like that 8-year-old who was chasing records in his very first track and field competition, Ezra continues to set the bar high for himself.

"When I look back on the little kid who had all these big dreams, who said he wanted to go to the Paralympics one day, who wanted to become a world champion and a world record holder -- that's what motivates me," Ezra said. "The younger version of myself who set these big goals."

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