Ezra Frech has shown no signs of slowing since he was named a Sports Illustrated Kids SportsKid of the Year finalist last December. Since then, Ezra broke seven total records in track and field at the Desert Challenges Games (60m, 200m, high jump, shot put, and javelin) in May and the Angel City Games (discus and javelin) in June. He has also spoken to more than 16,000 kids and adults at conferences and events.
Ezra’s one busy kid!
His accomplishments are all the more inspirational because he was born without his left knee and shinbone, and with only one finger on his left hand. He received his first prosthetic leg when he started pulling himself to stand at 11 months old. Walking on a prosthesis is now second nature to Ezra, who has gone through close to 20 different legs over the years.
He’s faced some physical challenges, but that hasn’t stopped the 10-year-old science-loving student (who is friends with Pau Gasol!) from making an impact. Besides everything he does on the track and in the classroom, he also leads Team Ezra. The charity raises support and awareness for the physically disabled.
I caught up with Ezra to hear about his exciting year and all that he is doing to inspire others.
How was your experience at the Angel City Games?
It was really fun. I did pretty well. But at the end of the 100-meter race I sprained my ankle, so I couldn’t do my last three events. I broke [two] records out of six events, so that’s pretty good. There were around 150 athletes at the Angel City Games. About half or a little bit more were kids, and the rest were adults.
I know you play soccer, basketball, flag football, track and play guitar. How do you define yourself? What’s your best sport?
I’d say that my best sports are track & field and basketball. I define myself as a student-athlete. Your academics have to come first.
How did you first get into sports?
Well, I’ve loved sports since I was a baby. I’ve always loved being active, and sports have always come naturally to me. I love being outside and having a ball in my hand and playing.
Out of all the sports you participate in, which one has taught you the most about sportsmanship, teamwork, and never giving up?
Basketball has taught me the most because there have been lots of rough games where kids have stared and pointed at me. When people stare and point and whisper, it just makes me work harder. It has also taught me to become a better leader and taught me how to lead a team.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as an athlete?
My biggest challenge has probably been overcoming kids staring, whispering, and pointing fingers. Here is how I dealt with it: My mom and dad would simply approach the person who was staring, whoever it was, and just ask them if they were curious about me and if they had any questions. Over time, as I got older, I started doing this myself. My mom and dad would always be on stand-by in case I didn't have the emotional energy to confront the person. I have also had to learn how to maneuver and how to play basketball on a knee. That was really hard at first.
Who has been the most influential with regard to your love of sports and why?
I have a couple people who have been influential. Blake Leeper is a double amputee, which means that he’s missing two legs. He’s trying to make it to the Olympics. He’s always positive and he’s always happy, giving me new tips. He has taught me to never give up, and that I’m going to be great one day.
Pau Gasol is another one. He’s always been so positive. I love him. He never goes easy on me [when we play Horse], and what I love the most about him is that he never talks smack about anybody. If I say “Oh, this guy did that, isn’t that terrible?” then he would say, “No, that’s not terrible.” He’s the nicest guy in the world and I love him.
They sound like great people. How cool was it to meet Pau Gasol?
I felt like my dream came true! They told us that we were going to get a tour of the Lakers locker room at the Staples Center, so we waited in this room, and my mom and I were playing basketball. The second that he walked in, my heart just dropped. I was just like “Oh my gosh, it’s Pau Gasol!” I looked up to him, and we’ve stayed in touch and have become really good friends.
How does it make you feel to support other kids who also have physical challenges?
It makes me feel good that I can inspire people and help them get into sports. It is a good feeling when you know that you have changed someone’s life.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve done?
Being on the Ellen DeGeneres Show was pretty exciting. Sports related, my favorite thing is that I hit a backwards half-court shot at the end of a game. That was pretty exciting and pretty cool for me. When I spoke to more than 16,000 people at a conference, it was amazing and that was really cool for me. I did two big speeches. My first one was in San Jose, and then I had a big one in Chicago.
When you deliver motivational speeches to kids, what is your message and how has that experience of helping others helped you, too?
I always talk about when I was a kindergartener playing basketball. I missed a couple of shots — I missed all my shots — and I was upset. I walked off the court, and my P.E. coach came up to me and said, “Don’t worry little guy, you’re going to go out there and make another shot no matter what and you are going to finish well.” That’s one thing that has always affected me in life because if I slip and fall at the beginning of a race, I drive harder and harder and harder to finish well.
Another thing I talk about is, “You can dream it, hope it, or make it happen.” And that has always been huge for me. I don’t want to dream it. I don’t want to hope it. I want to make it happen. And that’s always encouraged me to do my best and I dream of stuff and make it happen. You always want to show people what you can do. Being different is okay. Everybody is different. Whether you look different, think different, or you act different, we all have our differences. I look different. I am missing a limb. But that’s not going to slow me down.
Photos: Isabel Gomez