Ezra Frech has golden plans for Paris Paralympics, and that's just the beginning

Ezra Frech finished fifth the high jump in his Paralympic debut at age 16. In pouring rain, he stood on the track in Tokyo and watched the three medalists celebrate with their countries' flags, flanked by photographers.

Later that day, Frech sat in a cafeteria, pulled out his phone, searched for a picture of the medalists and saved it as his background. He added words to the image: "never again."

It served as Frech's motivation for the last two and a half years. He said it will stay on his phone through the Paralympics in Paris this summer and for the rest of his career.

"Never again will I let this happen," Frech said of the defeat in Tokyo in 2021. "Never again will I feel this."

He made good on that declaration thus far.

Last July, Frech won his first senior world title in the high jump, doing so in Paris. He also broke the world record in the T63 division that was held by one of the men on his phone background — Tokyo gold medalist Sam Grewe.

"Winning the world title, breaking the world record, that was all very special," Frech said last fall. "But I was standing on top of the podium, thinking, none of this matters. I've got to do it again next year (at the Paralympics)."

Frech, a Los Angeles native, was born with congenital limb differences, missing his left knee and left fibula and a few fingers on his left hand.

As far back as he can remember, Frech has known about the opportunities available in adaptive sports. That was instilled into him by dad Clayton and mom Bahar Soomekh, a film actress in "Saw III," "Mission: Impossible III" and "Crash."

He watched the 2012 London Paralympics at age 7.

Frech then honed in on track and field at age 8 after flying with his dad to Oklahoma to take part in the 2013 Endeavor Games, an adaptive multi-sport competition, and making the local newspaper.

To make the most of the trip, Frech competed in nine different events — 60m, 100m, 200m, 400m, long jump, high jump, discus, javelin and shot put. In the first long jump competition of his life, Frech was told he broke an age-group record.

"I fell in love with track and field from that point," he said.

Frech began zeroing in on the high jump at age 10. He competed with Grewe domestically. Grewe, who is seven years older, then captured the world title in 2015 and a Paralympic silver medal in 2016 in Rio.

Grewe cleared six feet for that silver medal. Frech, clearing about four feet at the time, aspired to clear six feet by the Tokyo Games.

"I just remember being 11 years old and telling my mom, 'Do you think I can go to Tokyo? You think I could go to the next Games in Paris? Think I could be a Paralympian? Do you think this could be my career?'" Frech said. "She looked me dead in the eyes, and she said, 'Absolutely, I do.'"

Frech did make it to Tokyo as the youngest man on the U.S. Paralympic team across all sports.

He set a personal best in the high jump final, then took three unsuccessful attempts at clearing six feet for the first time. Three other men did clear that height, led by Grewe, who took the gold.

Frech leaped to the top last year after adding Roderick Townsend as a coach. Townsend, who works with Frech remotely from Arizona, won the last two Paralympic high jump titles in a different classification than Frech's.

In his first meet with Townsend as his coach, Frech cleared a personal-best height at the April 2023 Mt. SAC Relays in California.

Three months later, Townsend won his fourth consecutive world title and broke the world record for the T47 classification. Two days after that, Frech won his first world title and broke the world record in the T63 classification.
Since then, Grewe returned to competition after taking a post-Tokyo break to focus on medical school at the University of Michigan.

Frech edged Grewe for the national title last month. Both Frech and Grewe are on the team for next month's world championships in Kobe, Japan. The Paralympic Trials are in July in Miramar, Florida, where Frech and Grewe are favored to make the team.

Frech's big plans extend beyond the Paris Games.

He helped found Angel City Sports, an L.A.-based nonprofit that provides year-round adaptive sports opportunities for people with physical disabilities or visual impairments.

On Feb. 6, he announced that he committed to the University of Southern California, becoming the first above-the-knee amputee to be recruited to a Division I program to compete against able-bodied athletes. Frech said other above-the-knee amputees may have walked on to teams.

He wants to be a face of the 2028 Los Angeles Games, where he wants to pull off what he calls "the triple crown" — gold in the high jump, long jump and 100m.

"I want my legacy to be the greatest Paralympian of all time and to be known as someone who changed the way the Paralympics are viewed forever," Frech said. "Someone who normalized disability on a global scale and was an example of what is possible as an amputee."

NBC Olympic and Paralympic research contributed to this report.