“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,” – Jordan Lee.
It’s easy to forget you are speaking to a 19-year-old when in the company of Jordan Lee such is the conviction in what he says about his burgeoning athletics career.
The Killarney native is currently in Dubai as part of an 11-person team chosen to represent Ireland at the World Para Athletics Championships.
Before travelling to his first World Championships, Lee sat down with members of the media at Circle K’s recent launch of their “Here for Ireland” campaign and as soon as the youngster opened his mouth, you were left hanging onto every word he said, such was the passion and drive with which he spoke.
It’s really no surprise that the young Kerry high-jumper is ranked second in the world.
“[I’m] very excited ahead of my first World Championships. I competed in the French GP in August and delighted to finish first, beating the European and Asian champion by 12cm. Flying out to World Championships in 10 days so going into them in great form so hopefully can keep that momentum going.
“I jumped 1.92m, an international PB for me, and I also attempted the European record of 1.97m by attempting 1.98m…my calves 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. 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.”
Having been born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, Lee has navigated his way through life without a left forearm. However, having one less limb was clearly never going to deter this young man from achieving great heights.
As he put it, he wants to raise the bar every time. Lee has a burning desire to prove that para-athletes are just as capable as able-bodied athletes.
“I just had to work harder than everyone else. I would get up every morning from the age of six before school to go swimming and play basketball. That’s how determined I was to make history and to prove everybody wrong.
“I played a bit of soccer, 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.”
Over the course of his life, he has done that and so much more. Having represented Ireland already in basketball, Lee is the only one-handed basketball player to represent their country.
However, a chance meeting with one of Ireland’s greatest ever athletes, Paralympian Jason Smyth, encouraged the Killarney man to dip his toes into the world of Para Athletics. As it happened, the high jump seemed to be right up his street.
“I originally started out playing basketball and am the only one-handed basketball player to represent their country in the world so originally that was what I did before I got involved in para-sport.
“Then I went to a national seminar for inclusion connected with the CARA Centre in Tralee and they wanted to release a video about my basketball career and Jason Smyth was one of the speakers at it, the fastest Paralympian of all time. This was December 2016.
“He encouraged me to go to the Paralympic Expo that was on in the following January so I said I’d go for the craic and see what it was like.
“A couple of sports thought I had some serious potential and wanted me to take on their discipline seriously. 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.”
After deciding to focus on the high jump, Lee threw himself into the discipline but he was no overnight success.
It wasn’t until he met his now full-time coach Tomás Griffin that the young man from Killarney started to cause ripples in the rankings. Eight months under Griffin’s tutelage and Lee was crowned European bronze medalist.
Yet despite European success, the supremely driven Lee still wasn’t happy.
“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.
“Then I was in the Castleisland track one day in November 2017 and I saw a local athlete – Tomás Griffin – he could tell I was getting frustrated, everything I was doing was completely sideways. So he came and helped me for the rest of the session and I felt I learned an awful lot from him.
“He said I could meet him at the track the following week at the same time and it came to a stage where he said ‘I’ll be willing to be your full-time coach but you have to give me 100% or nothing’ and that’s the motto I use on all my social media. It’s always ‘100% or nothing.’
“So I probably only started training properly in January 2018.
“My PB went from 1:55m to 1:84m, add the context that that’s 2cm over my own head backwards off one leg… so I qualified for Europeans and won a bronze medal…
“I was disappointed with that as well as I underperformed greatly on the day. 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.”
While he may be looking to go a few steps further than third place in next week’s World Para Atheltic Championships, you still get the feeling that Lee is out to achieve more than just medals.
The Killarney high jumper wants to prove to the world that para-athletes are just as good as able-bodied athletes.
“I knew of some of the athletes but never really appreciated what they were doing. You’d hear people say they could run 100m in under 12 seconds but there are not many people who can do that.
“Jason Smyth, at 32, has a visual impairment and is still the second-fastest person in Irish history. He ran 10.5 this season, that’s unbelievable, disability or not. He’s competing in the able-bodied competition and is the second-best Irishman of all time.
“I’m glad to say I finished fourth in the National Senior Championships, in able-bodied competition and I’m ranked seventh in the country nationally. So many of our paralympic team compete in the able-bodied nationals.
“I competed in (able-bodied) Munster junior championships in 2018 but I was nowhere near the high jumper than that I am now.
“I finished third in the national U21 (able-bodied) championships in February this year, that was a big breakthrough to win a national medal as a para-athlete.
“Not a lot of jumpers knew who I was and was wondering how this guy was going on. Afterwards, they said we need to respect this guy and ever since myself and a few other high jumpers around the country get on really well and they respect me.”