“Sports bring people together,” says Ezra Frech. He’s responding to our question—which turned out more provocative than we intended—about how Amplitude can make the Paralympics seem relevant to readers who aren’t sports fans and/or aren’t very physically active. How, we asked, can we create relatable content about athletic feats that lie far beyond the abilities of the average able-bodied person—much less an amputee who’s fighting to restore their mobility or who may even have despaired of ever regaining mobility?
Frech’s answer is smart and well-informed, and it aligns with own our views about the Paralympics’ potential to transcend sports. But it’s not his intelligence that stands out. It’s his passion. Yes, sports get lots of attention, he says—but look at what they give back. Look at how they affect not just the participants but the communities around them. He’s seen the dividends paid out repeatedly through his family’s Angel City Sports organization—and he’s seen many cases in which adaptive sports helped non-athletes find their own inner champion.
“This is something we constantly talk about at Angel City,” he says. “It’s not just about sports. It’s way more than sports. We’re bringing the community together through sports. This is something where people can develop relationships that completely transform how they see themselves. There are so many positives. It helps people physically, psychologically, mentally.”
He’s got a lot more to say below. We talked to him over the weekend, just after his return from a two-week stay at the Olympic Training Center of Chula Vista. Our conversation is edited for length and clarity.
I saw on your Instagram where your leg came off during a race. Has that ever happened before?
That has happened occasionally in training. It’s happened maybe once in a track meet, I think back in 2018. So it doesn’t happen regularly, but the fact that it’s happening at all raises concerns. So we’re getting that fixed and figuring out what the issue is. I honestly don’t even know why it came off. It felt perfectly fine on the track before the race. I got off the block really well, and then at about 30 meters I just felt it [coming off]. Usually I can feel it coming off and I’ll be able to stop, but this was just one step and then boom! It was off. And it flew really far.
Yeah, the distance was impressive.
I can’t even remember what I was feeling. You’re running full speed and then you’re on the ground.
And then you almost got run over by the wheelchair racer. That really could have been a catastrophe.
A hundred percent. I was more freaked out about the wheelchair than I was about the leg coming off. They’re carbon fiber wheels coming ridiculously fast, so who knows what could have happened. I probably would have been knocked unconscious or something. I was able to just pull my body back a split-second before it was coming through. I got very lucky.
What type of race was that? You’re not typically competing against wheelchair racers.
It was an open meet at the Olympic Training Center. I went down there for two weeks, and they had a heat where they put people with different disabilities together so we could all get a sense of our times [under race conditions].
That mishap aside, how are things going? Are you about where you want to be?
March was not the best month for me. I long jumped at two of my high school meets, and the first meet was really bad. The second meet was a little better, but still not that great. These were very low marks, and I was pretty upset about it. I literally would have to jump four feet farther than this to medal in Tokyo. But then I had some really good practices at the Training Center. Just within a week, I long jumped a foot and a half farther than the week before.
I tend to have goals that are extremely forward, so it was good to get confirmation from the high-level coaches that I’m not crazy and that these goals I have for myself are realistic. It’s not only good for my confidence, but it’s good reassurance that we’re on the right track. We have four and a half months now until the Games, and it’s all coming together pretty quick. Once something clicks, it it all sort of comes together.
Take me inside that process a little more. What are you working on mechanically to produce a foot and a half of extra distance in the long jump?
There are a lot of things that go into it. You’re putting these little pieces together. For example, I didn’t have much of a rhythm change or a tempo change in my approach. Ideally, as you get closer to the board, you want each step to be quicker. You don’t want to go too fast out of the back end, because then you’re going to die out by the time you get the board. But if you go too slow, then you’re not going to have enough speed to carry you into the air. It’s got to be balanced, where you’re pushing out hard but slowing your steps and then building up a little bit faster, little bit faster, little bit faster, all the way to the board. Changing that definitely made a difference.
Then on top of that, it’s just learning how to load and jump off the blade. Arguably that’s the most difficult part. There are certain positions where you hit the blade where you go nowhere—you get absolutely nothing. There’s other positions that you can hit the blade and it’ll launch you. The higher I raise my leg before I slam it down on the board, the higher I get in the air. When I don’t bring it as high, I get more distance. And at the end of the day, you want height and distance. So I have to find the sweet spot. And then there’s some little mechanical stuff I can do with my knees and my hips [during the jump] to affect the distance. But the majority of the jump is made right off the board.
I seem to always go through a period every season where I’m just not executing or it hasn’t clicked and I’m getting crappy results. And then over multiple sessions, I flip everything around and things began to take more of a positive turn. By the time I left the Training Center, I was jumping significantly farther. A six-meter jump is going to be coming very soon. So there’s a little bit of a upward momentum that we can hopefully ride into the summer.
And you’re hoping to compete in both the long jump and the high jump in Tokyo, correct?
Long jump, high jump, and the 100 [meters]. They’re very, very different events, so I’m not able to just think about one thing all day long. You’re thinking about 10 to 15 different cues within three separate events.
Between all of that, plus going to school, how much time do you have to be involved in Angel City Sports? What sort of role are you playing these days?
I tend to do the media side stuff, maybe speaking at our Advisory Council or helping with events or fundraising. I’m not with the team every day; I wish I could be. But whatever they need me to do, I’m there for it.
The Angel City Games are returning this year as an in-person event. [They were staged virtually in 2020.] Is there anything from last year’s format that will become a permanent part of the Games going forward?
I’m sure there are some, but we’re such an in-person organization. There’s a lot of connection that can only happen in person, a lot of interaction between the athletes and the coaches. I wonder if the year off almost makes people appreciate each other a little bit more. In some sense, even though the community was farther apart, it almost brought everyone closer together because everyone was experiencing similar things. To have a community that’s so tight and force it to separate for a year and a half, and staying as close to each other as you possibly can through the virtual events and everything, I think coming back together in the fall will be one of those milestone events that people will remember forever. We got hit with this challenge, and we worked around it and we became stronger because of it.
Earlier you were talking about your personal, individual goals for Tokyo. Then there are also these community-oriented goals with Angel City that you just spoke about. Is there any tension between the commitment to personal achievements and the commitment to this larger community?
I think they feed off of each other. Whatever I do in track and field goes hand in hand with furthering the growth of the adaptive sports movement. Even just thinking short-term about Tokyo, hopefully I’m inspiring more generations of athletes to go after their dreams, despite what the odds might be. If I’m winning medals, that’s great for my track career or whatever, but it’s also feeding back to Angel City. It’s building the Paralympic movement.
We occasionally hear from some of our readers that sports stories get too much hype, and that not every amputee is a great athlete—nor should they have to be to get attention. How do we prevent people from feeling excluded if they’re not particularly athletic, or if they’re struggling with their fitness?
If they would come out to one of our events or go to an event in their community, it might change their opinion. The community aspect of sports is absolutely amazing. I get how somebody might feel they’re not as accounted for because the athletes are the ones who might be getting the media, but the media coverage of sports within the adaptive community is feeding publicity for the experiences of all people with physical disabilities. When I’m being interviewed about my sports career, that gives me a platform to talk about the struggles of living with a disability, the difficulty of dialing in a prosthetic leg or having blisters on my stump. It’s a way to reach an audience of people who might not even care about or understand the adaptive community at all.
So maybe the bridge we need to build is that if sports help to raise visibility, it spins off benefits everywhere. Maybe it makes it easier to make progress in accessible transit, or more affordable health care, or—
There are very few disability advocates who are in the public eye. But millions and millions of people are seeing adaptive athletes on a daily basis, and we’re able to talk about issues that affect everyone. Just being able to navigate the home as an amputee—that is an incredibly important issue, and it should 100 percent be covered. But let’s be real. If we’re trying to get as many eyeballs on that story as we can, we can weave it into the coverage of a really great wheelchair basketball game. You get it on NBC in prime time, on mainstream media outlets with millions and millions and millions of viewers, and that’s getting the word out to people.
If I touched a nerve, I didn’t mean to. We absolutely think these are important stories that bring a lot of value to our readers. But I think we can do a better job of connecting the dots for people between sports and everyday life—or, really, to connect the dots between the exceptional athlete who is physically gifted, and the average person who may lack confidence in their physicality.
It does touch a nerve, because everything we do is rooted in the whole idea of furthering opportunities for every person who has a disability. Every person can participate in our community. We welcome everyone. This is something we constantly talk about at Angel City. It’s not just about sports. It’s way more than sports. We’re bringing the community together through sports. This is something where people can develop relationships that completely transform how they see themselves. There are so many positives. It helps people physically, psychologically, mentally. It’s almost like a built-in support group. These people become your friends who you call if you have a question about which prosthetist should I go to, or you just need to talk to somebody.
Some people who claim not to like sports might not have tried it. And they might not know that you don’t have to be an incredible athlete to participate. We get a lot of people who find out they love archery. They never tried it until they came to Angel City, and now they love it.
If anyone came out to the Angel City Games and saw everything that’s going on besides the competitions—the music, people dancing, people sitting together, people with all kinds disability types, and all these amazing attractions—they’d see what sports is able to do in bringing people together. Sports does get media coverage, right? Well, that’s one of the major things that is going to help grow the movement and help change the lives of regular people.