Ezra Frech fell into a funk shortly after COVID-19 changed his and the lives of billions of others worldwide.
An accomplished track and field para-athlete, Frech struggled when his routine dramatically changed.
“You’re stuck at home, and I’m not at school — with the track right there — every day,” Frech recalls. “No one to track my reps, my coach can’t watch everything.
“It was on me.”
For the first time since he can remember, the 15-year-old went weeks without working out, partly because he wasn’t sleeping well and partly because he was — like many — binge-watching shows on Netflix.
But his mindset flipped when a thought popped into his mind: Frech didn’t want to live in regret.
“I would be devastated if I walked off the track, knowing that there was more I could have done,” Frech says. “I didn’t want to have the feeling that I could have worked harder.”
Being 15, Frech doesn’t take his future for granted. That is why he created a cue to keep him focused.
On average, Americans check their smartphones 52 times each day, according to the 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Survey. So Frech placed a specific picture to be featured on the lock screen of his cell phone.
It’s from the 100-meter final at the World Para Athletics Championship last November in Dubai.
“It’s me behind all these other guys. Every time I open my phone, I’m reminded that I have to catch up,” he says. “The wolf on the top of the hill is not as hungry as the one on the bottom.”
He also placed eighth in the long jump and seventh in the high jump at the same event.
Frech, though, omits a key fact: He’s much younger than his competitors.
Passion and purpose
Born with congenital limb differences, Frech is missing his left knee and fibula, and fingers on his left hand. At 11 months, he received his first prosthetic leg — and he’s been an athlete ever since.
He’s participated in soccer, basketball, football, swimming, karate (blue belt), archery, surfing and skateboarding. And, of course, track and field.
His first dream was to play in the NBA, but he developed what he described as a “deep love” for track. A public speaker, Frech doesn’t shy away from speaking to students about the “dark periods” of his youth when he constantly felt like an outsider.
“The confidence came from sports,” Frech says, “and thinking, “What's the point of sulking in sadness, and feeling sorry for myself? I can’t change the situation. My leg isn’t growing back, so I might as well make the most of my life.’”
A breakthrough came when he was 8 years old, and his father signed him up for a track meet halfway across the country in Oklahoma. Though he had no experience in most of the events, Frech participated in all nine and shined. In fact, he broke the national record in the long jump, with each successful one extending further and further.
“My dad figured, ‘We’ve traveled this far, so you might as well do everything,’" Frech recalls.
That started his journey as a United States Paralympic track and field athlete, with the realization to focus more on his blessings than his curses. He holds nine national track and field records, he was a finalist for Sports Illustrated’s SportsKid of the Year in 2014, and he won a gold medal in the high jump at the 2019 World Para Athletics Junior Championships, along with bronze medals in the long jump and 100-meter.
During COVID, Frech learned more about himself, namely the importance of self-motivation.
“Training for the Olympics is surreal. It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was 4 years old,” he says. “And I’m in a position to compete on the biggest stage in the world, and it would be foolish for me to let this golden opportunity to pass me by. And I’m the underdog. I’m the youngest guy on the entire circuit. I have to work my way up.”
Though he’s excited about competing in Tokyo, Frech cannot stop himself from sometimes thinking about Los Angeles, which will host its first Paralympics in 2028.
"You don’t even understand the excitement that’s within me, even thinking of LA 2028, in front of my city, friends. The city that helped shape me. Oh my goodness!” Frech says. “Nothing could mean more. You’re making me excited right now, over the phone, even talking about it! I’m going to go do pushups!”
Frech hopes to inspire younger athletes with two main messages of hope: “Being different is ok” and “You can dream it, you can hope for it, or you can make it happen.”
Frech was flattered that the 2028 organizers asked him to help design an “A” for the LA28 logo. He wanted that letter to represent the adaptive community, so the “A” had the face of a cheetah but also blades, a wheelchair, and much more.
“Kids can feel left out and isolated,” he says. “But this ‘A’ represents them. It’s been amazing.”
A big part of Frech's motivation is to honor all those who have supported him, including his mother Bahar Soomekh, who fled Iran in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution and moved to the United States. Starting from scratch, she became an actress, and she’s appeared on shows such as “Without a Trace” and “JAG,” and appeared in the hit movie “Crash.”
“I think about all the people who put in time and effort for me to even be in this position,” he says. “Every person who helped me to get where I am. With medals or without, I want to walk off the track knowing that I gave everything I had.”