Coming In Fifth At The Tokyo Paralympics Was A Blessing
by Ezra Frech
You know how in movies, superheroes typically have that origin story? The thing that led to them going on and becoming the superhero that they are? When I placed fifth in the T63 high jump at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics and watched three medalists take the podium, I said: never again; this is my origin story — and it starts now.
When I was younger, my goal was to become a Paralympian. And when I made the team for Tokyo at 15 and COVID postponed the event, I thought that since I had an extra year, my goal shouldn't just be to make the team. That’s not who I am. The goal has to be a podium finish.
When I didn’t accomplish that, the disappointment I felt somehow became one of the biggest blessings in my life. It lit a fire in me. Yes, I was crushed. I was one bar away from a bronze medal. I was heartbroken to fail so publicly. But I gave it everything I had.
I wouldn’t have changed anything about that experience. I learned in Tokyo that I did just about everything right: I slept properly; I ate properly; I stretched properly; I recovered properly; I trained properly. But I was 16, going against grown men. I wasn’t strong enough yet. I wasn’t fast enough. I wasn’t mature enough to walk away with a medal that night.
But had I maybe not set the goal of making the podium, who knows if I would have gotten fifth. Maybe I would have gotten eighth because I didn’t have my sights set on something so great.
My goal is to continue to improve. While I didn’t finish on the podium in Tokyo, I was very well prepared and only an inch away. I plan to replicate that same level of discipline and preparation for Paris. But not the part where I’m crying in the media tent after a fifth-place finish. Hopefully in Paris I’ll be crying tears of joy on the track with an American flag draped around me after winning gold.
The way to make sure that doesn’t happen again is to continue to work unbelievably hard. And as I grow and get older, I will continue to gain more experience on the track and more experience in the sport. With experience comes wisdom. Because I’m never going to be that guy that’s just happy to be there — that’s not me. I will always strive for the thing that others might deem unrealistic.
People have said, “You didn’t fail! You made the team at 16 years old,” and “You got fifth in the world! That’s amazing.” But my goal was to medal, and I failed to achieve that. But I believe that beautiful things come out of failure. For me, one of them is an unrelenting motivation and desire to get back out there and avenge my loss.
I remember after my last jump — walking off the track — my dad looked at me, and I was crying and super emotional. He said, “The plot thickens.” You know, your life is a story. You’re writing history by living it and this just makes the story that much better when you go after those big dreams: Paris 2024, LA 2028...
There’s a quote I love that says, “Most people fail not because they set too high goals and don’t achieve them, but because they set goals too low and achieve those.” And that is a motto I live my life by. I try to set the most unrealistic expectations, and then I do everything to make it happen. For me, it’s less about accomplishing the goal and more about achieving the impossible.
That’s why, sitting in the Tokyo cafeteria decompressing with my dad for five hours after my loss, I was already looking to the future. It was there that I said, okay, you lost, but what’s next? I told myself the next world championships I am going to win gold. I will never walk away from major championships again without a medal till the day I retire.
Even though I see myself competing for at least another ten years, life outside of sport doesn’t scare me. I believe that sport will always be a big part of my life. Everything I do now is to set myself up for the day when I stop competing.
As an athlete I believe it is important to diversify, especially in the Paralympic world. It’s not as financially stable as some like to believe. So, building a brand and starting a non-profit, Angel City Sports, are ways I can continue to have a purpose and passion afterwards, because I don’t just want to be an athlete.
For people with disabilities, we don’t have proper access to sports. Prosthetic legs are expensive, sport wheelchairs are expensive, and programming is inconsistent at best, so the barriers to sport is extremely high.
At Angel City Sports, we provide year-round adaptive sports opportunities for people with physical disabilities or visual impairments. We want to show people what’s possible, because having a disability can be isolating and make you feel like an outsider: people whispering, pointing fingers. But the truth is, everyone is different: some people look different, think different, act different. We all have our own obstacles and challenges in life. But the fact that every one of us is different is the one thing we all have in common.
Meet World Champion Ezra Frech