Bahar Soomekh recounts her son Ezra Frech’s first word — and it wasn’t “Mama” or “Dada.”
“It was ‘ball’,” Soomekh tells Parentology. Ezra was born without his left knee, left fibula, or the fingers on his left hand — none of which have prevented him from achieving big things in his young life. As a very young child he learned to count in two’s in order to track basketball scores, and when most children were watching cartoons, he was analyzing basketball plays.
Ezra’s passion grew. In 2019, he competed in the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, followed by the 2019 Para Athletics World Championships in Dubai. After devoting his life to sports, Ezra Frech found himself headed to the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Tokyo.
And then COVID hit.
Ezra Frech’s Road to the Paralympics
The road to paralympic glory has been fraught with challenges, but Ezra has risen to meet them with confidence, hard work, and tenacity. His father, Clayton Frech, says that he and his wife gave their son unfettered access to trained athletes at a very early age, both to normalize adaptive sports and to teach him that nothing could hold him back.
“I think he’s benefited from having paralympians as friends and mentors,” Clayton tells Parentology. “From the age of five months old, we surrounded him with people competing at that elite level.”
Bahar echoes her husband’s sentiment. “When Ezra was born, we couldn’t imagine what the world would look like for a kid who had his leg removed and had a toe-to-hand transplant,” she says. “We didn’t have the community that we have now, and that’s why it was so essential to have him around all of these athletes at such an early age.”
Ezra has never held much stock in his detractors, and even finds it beneficial to his performance when people underestimate him.
“Everywhere you go, people don’t think you’re capable of what an able-bodied person can do,” he says. “I’ll go to my high school track meet and they don’t expect the one-legged kid to go out and win the competition. When I was younger it got to me, but now it’s a motivation and excites me that I have a chance to prove people wrong, to shock them and turn some heads.”
The Birth of Angel City Sports
As with most facets of Ezra’s life, what originally presented itself as a challenge soon turned into an opportunity, with the advent of Angel City Sports. In 2013, father and son attended the Endeavor paralympic competition in Oklahoma, and were inspired to create the Angel City Games in Southern California — a multi-sport Paralympic competition for all levels of ability.
“I became obsessed with creating something in southern California for our community,” says Clayton. “It was a grand idea — a destination event where we could model what we saw at these games — something for all abilities.”
It took about 2 years to get the first event off the ground, with 125 athletes participating in track and field and wheelchair basketball. But through the process, Clayton realized there weren’t a lot of opportunities to provide adaptive sports throughout the year, “so we pivoted from Angel City Games to Angel City Sports.”
What makes this program special is its inclusivity; a child can learn a sport, and compete the next day. “All these kids who think they’re ‘less than’ because they were born different,” says Clayton, “Angel City Sports tells them there’s a bigger world out there. And Ezra is now a mentor to all of them.”
The 2020 Paralympics and COVID
The Paralympics are a major international, multi-sport event for athletes with physical disabilities, governed by the International Paralympic Committee. (They differ from the Special Olympics, which train athletes with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.)
As with the Olympics, it takes a great deal of training to make it there. But no amount of training can prepare you for a pandemic.
SportsEngine published a profile on Ezra at the end of 2020. In it, the young athlete said he fell into a funk like everyone else. Then then-15-year-old went weeks without working out and (like everyone else) started binge-watching shows on Netflix. But then one day he realized he was young, and he didn’t want to live with the regret of quitting.
“I would be devastated if I walked off the track, knowing that there was more I could have done,” Ezra told the publication. “I didn’t want to have the feeling that I could have worked harder.”
And so he’s training, both for this year’s Olympics and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, as well as when the 2028 Olympics comes to his hometown of Los Angeles.
“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.”
As Ezra tells future paralympic hopefuls: “You can dream it, you can hope for it, or you can make it happen.”
The 16th Summer Paralympic Games are scheduled to be held in Tokyo, Japan in September 2021.