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Dublin: 2 °C Saturday 29 February, 2020

'When I was developing the umbilical chord wrapped around my elbow, stopping the blood flow and growth'

Kerry native Jordan Lee is working towards qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

KILLARNEY NATIVE JORDAN Lee always knew he would have to work harder than everyone else if he wanted to thrive in sport.

Jordan L Jordan Lee is competing at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai.

It’s a lesson he uncovered at an early age. He never used it as a crutch or an excuse and instead chose to convert it into a motivational tool.

Up at 6am every morning, Lee took himself to the swimming pool or the basketball court before school to put in the hours and pass out the competition.

Even at that stage, making history was on his mind. More importantly, he wanted to make a point to all those who stared at him and only saw limitations in his left arm.

By the time he was a teenager, he was already taken huge strides towards that goal.

“I played a bit of soccer,” he recounts, “won an able-bodied tennis competition up in Dublin when I was 12, would you believe.

“I believe that just because you’re a para-athlete doesn’t mean you’re restricted to para-competitions.

You can still go compete in able-bodied competitions, we deserve to be treated the same as everyone else and compete against them and that’s always been my outlook, to compete in able-bodied competitions and I’m going to continue that.”

Lee was born with amniotic band syndrome. Indeed, it’s a bit of a mouthful to pronounce, but Lee speaks with such conviction and optimism that it strips away all the complexities of his condition.

He’s not inhibited by any insecurities either. At different times during his conversation with the media, he presses his right hand under his left arm in such an expressive way while talking about his journey through life and sport.

It’s just a natural movement for him.

His parents didn’t know they were any abnormalities before Lee was born and it only became apparent that his body was different as he arrived into the world.

When I was developing the umbilical cord wrapped around my elbow, stopping the blood flow and stopping the growth,” Lee explains.

“My parents didn’t know about it all. It came as quite a shock to them because it never showed up on any scans but my parents have always been extremely loving and caring and always encouraged me.”

Lee Lee's parents didn't know there were any complications until he was born.

Basketball was Lee’s main sport when he was younger and he was selected on the Ireland U15 development squad in 2014.

That was a major milestone in his sporting career, but those hoop dreams have since been put to one side.

There’s a new sport in Lee’s life now — the high jump. Lee first developed an interest in the discipline after an encounter with five-time Paralympic champion Jason Smyth encouraged him to attend a Paralympic Expo.

“A couple of sports thought I had some serious potential and wanted me to take on their discipline seriously,” Lee recalls.

“As a 16-year-old I had to decide if I liked any of them and second, what I might be best at.

“After a couple of months I decided the high jump, partly because of my background in basketball where I always had a relatively decent jump.

“My first competition was June 2017 and I was fourth… out of four people. I wasn’t too happy with that! I jumped 1.55m, it was very poor standard jumping by me so for the first year of my athletics career I didn’t really have a coach. What I was doing was not really structured at all.”

Source: BasketballIreland/YouTube

Despite Lee’s natural sporting ability, the transition into the high jump was never going to be straightforward.

And it wasn’t just developing a good jumping technique that posed challenges for him. He soon discovered that becoming proficient in the sport encompassed so much more than that.

Everything from speed to running at angles were skills he hadn’t considered for the high jump, and now he had to grips with all of that and more.

“Initially I struggled to realise what the high jump is and why there might be a disadvantage, thinking it’s just jumping, you’re not using your arm.

“But it’s multiple different things. It’s gym work, speed, conditioning and yoga. So many different elements make you a good high jumper.

I can’t do all the Olympic lifts, like my prosthetic doesn’t allow me do the clean and jerk because the wrist movement on it is very restricted so I have to adapt those exercises.

“You have 20m approach in high jump but if you’re running sideways your whole body position is off.

“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. It’s stuff like that people don’t take into account but there’s an awful lot to being a high jumper with one hand.”

With persistence came reward for Lee. He competed in an able-bodied Munster junior championships in 2018 before making a huge breakthrough earlier this year when he finished third in the national U21 championships in February.

Again, that was in a field of able-bodied athletes.

He also won a bronze medal in the 2018 Para Athletic European Championships. It was his first time to compete at a European championships, and yet, Lee wasn’t happy with his lot.

“I was disappointed with that as I under-performed greatly on the day,” he remembers.

“I remember being interviewed about how great an achievement it was and I personally didn’t think it was. The moment you’re satisfied is the moment you should stop because you’re not progressing anymore.”

Lee hasn’t dropped those standards since. He came first at the French Grand Prix earlier this year, defeating the European and Asian champions in the process.

michael-mckillop Irish Paralympian Michael McKillop. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

He even jumped an international PB of 1.92m at the event, but it wasn’t enough for the driven Kerry man. 

“I also attempted the European record of 1.97m by attempting 1.98m. My calfs clipped it on my second and third jump but it was really close.

“It took a nine-time world champion in Michael McKillop to calm me down afterwards!
Even after winning it very convincingly I was still disappointed because my goal going in was to win it and break the European record.”

The World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai are the next competition on Lee’s radar as he continues his quest to seal qualification for the Paralympics. The competition runs from tomorrow, 7 November, with Lee taking to the stage on Wednesday, 13 November.

A top-four finish in T47 High Jump will be enough for Lee to secure his ticket to Tokyo. This will be Lee’s debut appearance at the Worlds, but he’ll be the first to overlook that minor detail.

Fighting harder than others to get what he wants has always been at the centre of his steely mentality. And that’s not about to change now.

In order to achieve and progress that’s the attitude you need to have, to never be satisfied. That’s my mentality when I compete, I want to literally raise the bar every time.

“The Paralympics and Olympics are the biggest events in the world. I don’t want to be coming up to it and having regrets or what ifs if I didn’t do well.”

Jordan Lee was 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.

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