Jordan Lee: ‘I want to raise the bar every time I compete’

Jordan Lee: ‘I want to raise the bar every time I compete’
Athlete Jordan Lee is pictured at the launch of Circle K's "Here for Ireland" initiative. From today, Circle K customers can use the Circle K app or their loyalty tag in-store to generate digital coins that Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls can use to fuel their journey to the Tokyo 2020 Games. To support Ireland’s athletes, simply download the Circle K app today. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

His first sporting passion and talent was basketball and he made a national U15 development squad before he switched sports to pull on the Irish vest at high jump.

Such diverse talent is already impressive before you discover that Kerry teenager Jordan Lee was born with only one forearm.

But hold back fast on any sympathy or condescension because this is a rising young athletics star who doesn’t want or warrant it.

The 19-year-old from Killarney is already ranked number two in the world in his T47 event and about to make his debut at the World Para-Athletics Championships which take place in Dubai on November 7-15.

He’s also the first to confess that he knew nothing about para-sport until three years ago, until he attended a seminar in Tralee, run by CARA, the national pan-disability sports organisation.

Jason Smyth, the fastest Paralympian on the planet, was among the speakers and the Derry superstar encouraged Lee to go to Paralympics Ireland’s talent ID trials a month later, in January 2017.

Several para-sports coveted his talent but he chose high jump “because of my background in basketball where I always had a relatively decent jump.” It wasn’t all plain sailing.

“In my first competition in June 2017 I was fourth...out of four people,” Lee grins. “I jumped 1.55m which was very poor for me but, for my first year, I didn’t really have a coach.”

Tomás Griffin, a former long-jumper and Masters athlete with An Ríocht AC, spotting him training at the track in Castleisland late that year and offered to coach him.

Lee has taken flight ever since.

The 2 metre mark (6’6”) is a key barometer for high jumpers.

The Irish senior record is Adrian O’Dwyer’s 2.32m, ahead of Brendan Reilly (2.29m) and the latter has given Lee some pointers this year.

He has already jumped 1.95m, and, like many of his newfound para-sport heroes, also competes in able-bodied competitions.

He came fourth in this year’s national senior T&F Championships — just 5cm off the bronze – and finished joint eighth in Athletics Ireland’s 2019 high jump rankings.

“Just because you’re a para-athlete doesn’t mean you’re restricted to para-competitions,” Lee says.

“We deserve to be treated the same as everyone else and compete against them and that’s always been my outlook.He actually won bronze, with a then PB of 1.90m, at AAI’s National Junior (U20) Indoor Championships last February, “a big breakthrough for me, to win a national medal as a para-athlete.”

He didn’t initially realise how technical high jumping is or how being one-handed would affect him.

“When I first started my body position was all over the place because my right side is much heavier than my left because I don’t have a left forearm. You have a 20 metre approach and if you’re running sideways your whole body position is off.”

He just adjusts whenever necessary, like clipping on a prosthesis for lifting weights.

With the additional help of people like Eamonn Flanagan (S&C) and Adrian and Elaine Donoghue (of Navé Yoga) and going full-time this year (he deferred his place at IT Tralee) he has come on in leaps and bounds.

“Back in early 2018 I weighed 82 kilos but, by the Europeans in August I had lost 10kgs and increased my speed by over 30%., taken my PB from 1.55m to 1:84m and won a bronze medal.”

His coach Tomás Griffin says Lee’s mindset “is very much: ‘Obstacles? What obstacles?’”

He was disappointed with that European bronze and also after his French Grand Prix victory three months ago.

“Even after winning it very convincingly (by 10cm) I was still disappointed, because my goal was to win it and break the European record (1.97m).” But Michael McKillop quickly pointed out that Lee had just defeated the European and Asian champions.

“Michael was telling me all the positives and I realised I was being a bit harsh on myself,” he admits.

“But you need to be harsh on yourself to achieve and progress at the highest level. When I compete, I want to, literally, raise the bar every time.”

Ireland’s 11 athletes in Dubai include unbeaten Paralympic champions Jason Smyth (T13 sprinter) and Michael McKillop (T37 1500m) and the ‘rebel treble’ world discus champions Orla Barry (F57), Noelle Lenihan (F38) and Niamh McCarthy (F41).

Galway’s Alex Lee makes history as Ireland’s first ‘blade runner’ in T64 100/200m and Jordan Lee competes next Wednesday (Nov 13) in T47 high jump. Top four finishes will earn Ireland slots at the 2020 Paralympics.

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