Frech didn’t always feel so comfortable about his body. Arriving at a point of pride was a journey. “When I was younger, I didn’t really joke about [my disability]… I was pretty down on myself. I was in a school where I was the only kid with a disability. I sort of had a ‘why me’ mentality,” he said. As he got older, though, the way Frech viewed himself changed. “I realized I was born this way,” he said, “I might as well just make the most out of my life and have a good time.” He sees humor as a way to diffuse awkward situations, as well as to express his comfort with himself: “I make jokes to break up the tension. Talking about disability is still a little bit taboo.”
Sports have always been central to Frech’s life. Instead of “mama” or “papa,” his first word was “ball.” He was fitted with his first athletic prosthetic, more colloquially known as a “blade,” at age 4. If a sport was in season, Frech played it. “Soccer season, basketball season, track season, I was sort of all over the place,” he said. He played in mainstream sports with his classmates, and still does — in addition to being an internationally ranked para-athlete, Frech is on his high school’s track team. Meeting other disabled athletes, elite athletes who looked like him, was a formative experience. “The elite guys would come and they would hang out, give advice, talk to the younger kids,” he said. There wasn’t a specific meet that stands out to Frech – just being part of a disabled athletic community was important.
When Frech saw those same athletes competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games, though, everything crystallized. “I saw lots of guys I had competed with and competed against, guys I looked up to, competing in the Paralympics. It was this moment when the universe told me, ‘this is what you’re meant to do.’ I was so fired up,” he said. He remembers excitedly telling his parents that he was going to compete in the next Paralympic Games. He was 11 years old at the time. “Everyone was like, OK, good luck making the team. But now I actually have made the team,” he said, smiling. Frech loves that he has become like the men who inspired him, and looks forward to inspiring young disabled athletes himself: “I’m coming to these track meets and talking to little kids. Five years ago, I was that little kid.”
In fact, Frech is competing alongside some of the men he’s looked up to for his entire life. When he was six months old, his parents took him to a triathlon, where they met Rudy Garcia-Tolson. Garcia-Tolson was 16, and had just qualified for his first Paralympic Games as a swimmer. “It was huge for my parents to meet another person who had a similar disability [to mine]… They saw this teenager who just had his stuff figured out. He was cool. He was walking on two prosthetic legs. He was the nicest guy… He helped show my parents that it was possible for me to be active and live a happy, normal life.” Tokyo will be Garcia-Tolson’s fifth Paralympic Games, and Frech is excited to be on the same team as the man who showed his parents what was possible. “It’s a full circle moment,” Frech said.