'I still have a lot to prove and I still have a lot to show to people that I am a really good athlete.' Harry Murphy/SPORTSFILE
High hopes

Irish Para high jumper Jordan Lee on clearing the obstacles of the past year

The Kerry native competes in the World Para Athletics European Championships next week.

JORDAN LEE – LIKE all Irish athletes – was forced to be resourceful during lockdown.

And the answer to the high jumper’s problems lay within his relationship with his coach and his surroundings.

The Killarney native is currently less than one week out before he competes in the World Para Athletics European Championships, his first competition since August 2020.

Months of not competing have led Lee to focus on training with the aim of making big improvements before events resume.

For Lee, these months of lockdown proved to him his passion for his sport, as well as his tight relationship with coach Tomás Griffin.

“You definitely couldn’t deny our passion” Lee says, “myself and Tomás, we were actually physically labouring in Killarney to complete and finalise the Killarney Valley AC Arena, which is our new track that just opened.

“We were with the workers. We had track layer all over our hands. It took me about two weeks to scrub it off, considering I didn’t have use of my other hand to do it. So the proof was there.”

Griffin, a former long-jumper and Masters athlete with Killarney Valley AC, spotted Lee struggling training alone at the track in Castleisland in January 2018.

“He offered to give me a hand for the remainder of the session, pardon the pun. And the weeks just kept on rolling and rolling. And that’s how we built a relationship.”

Eight months under Griffin’s training and Lee was then crowned European bronze medalist, with a current rank of second in the world in his T47 High jump event.

The Covid-19 lockdown inevitably saw Lee then slow down his training with the lack of available equipment, where he was creative in making his own squat rack out of a barbell and two wheelie bins.

The 20-year-old used every training option available during lockdown, including using the lake at Muckross in Killarney for daily ice baths.

“When it came to the second lockdown, my coach Tómas, we got on really well,” Lee says.

“We’re not just sort of a coach/athlete relationship. We’re good friends at this stage. Him being so committed to our progression, he built a state-of-the-art gym in his house. And it’s absolutely fantastic. It has an adapted squat rack for me as well, so I can grip on to it on either side so my body isn’t over rotating on my left. So it was great to be able to have access to that.”

Having been born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, Lee has gone his way through life without a left forearm, and as he puts it, always tries to see the brighter side of things.

“If there’s an obstacle in your way that you just have to literally jump over it, which in my case I really have to.

“I got the call from the Paralympic team manager James Nolan that the Paralympics were postponed. It was something that I knew was going to happen regardless because of the situation.

“I remember looking out the window and it was raining fairly heavily. And I was in my apartment and I said, wouldn’t it be so easy just to chillax and watch a bit of Netflix and just take it easy for the day? But I said that the one day I’m not training gives my competitors an extra edge of opportunity to better me. And that’s something that drives me demented, to be honest. It’s something I can’t allow to happen.”

Lee is firm in his belief that this, combined with the efforts of his coach, are what kept him motivated throughout the last year and a half.

Next week’s European Championships are the first majors for Ireland’s track and field para-athletes since the 2019 World Championships in Dubai where Lee finished sixth.

With a personal best of 1.95m in able-bodied competition, Lee is close to the European record of 1.97m and confident that he is in the best physical shape to break it.

“I still have a lot to prove and I still have a lot to show to people that I am a really good athlete and that I do want to achieve and succeed at that high level. My goal is to win it, and if I break a European record along with that, then happy days.”

Jordan Lee was speaking at the launch of Circle K’s ‘To Team Ireland’ initiative for Tokyo 2021. 

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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