Joanne O’Riordan: Killarney’s Jordan Lee continues to hit the heights

20-year-old was a talented basketball player before switching to Para sports

Jordan Lee will compete in the high jump for Ireland at the Paralympics. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Jordan Lee will compete in the high jump for Ireland at the Paralympics. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho


If one thing is a certainty for this year’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, it’s the pride pumping through Jarlath Lee’s body when he steps up to watch his son, Jordan, compete in the high jump in the National Stadium Tokyo (11am on the 29th August).

Passing through Killarney, it’s obvious the delight and excitement at watching one of their own hit soaring highs, but for Jarlath and his son, they always knew with good work ethic, the rewards would come.

“He was always into sports. That would be soccer, basketball, swimming, tennis, you know, we used to go swimming every morning at seven o’clock. So it was always the first thing he did before school. He would come to my training session. He saw the work ethic then, what you have to do to reach a high level to a certain extent. And I was tough, I’m not going to lie, but that the only excuse he had was for tying the shoelaces or else you have to do it”.

Jarlath was 20 when Jordan was born. The official explanation was given to Jordan’s parents as to why Jordan was born missing his left hand - the umbilical cord wrapped around it at the elbow, cutting off blood flow, ensuring the arm wouldn’t fully grow.

But, as Jarlath himself said, just because he looked different doesn’t mean he was treated differently. In fact, while everyone was taking a second look at the boy missing his arm, Jordan was perfecting his skills, be it a layup, catching a ball or being one of the top soccer players in Killarney.

“You know, we’ve had our conversations, and he said I wasn’t too tough. We were involved with Enable Ireland from a very young age to teach him to put his clothes on the left-hand side. They encouraged us to do it straight away.

“At ball games, I would always encourage him to try things on the left, even if it was harder. Generally, you have to work on the left, and he worked. He got bigger, stronger and faster. With the swimming, he used to do 50 laps in the mornings for fun, and that was building up his inner strength. And then, when he got older, with all the other sports he was doing, he was still building up his body. Now he’s in phenomenal shape at the moment”.

So, how did a national basketball rising star find Para sports?

“So he was still playing the basketball at the time. Unfortunately, he had a freak accident at school, and some person slid in and dislocated his kneecap. That put a huge damper on the basketball because we had hoped he would go away somewhere for a year to train. So he was rehabbing his injury for about six months.

“He went into transition year, and he started working part-time over in the Cara Centre, the sports centre that strives for inclusion in sports. He got invited to a sports day in Blanchardstown, and in the Crowne Plaza, he bumped into Jason Smyth that day. Jason Smyth asked him to come to this Para expo. The following week, I’d to get the week off work, and we drove up. That day looking at him, there were at least probably eight to 10 coaches. He was 6ft1, he was athletic, you know they were all wanting him to pick their sport, And in the end, we narrowed it down to the high jump”.

Killarney wouldn’t exactly be known for high jump. In fact, Jarlath himself initially coached Jordan on an intermediate basis. Jordan was a teen by then, and Jarlath admits there were a few fights, but even Jarlath understood it was because athletics and high jump weren’t his specialities. Luckily, in stepped Killarney AC coach and former long jumper, Tomás Griffin.

Griffin provided structure and gave insights that Jarlath didn’t necessarily have. Jarlath knew some technical stuff, like how your first step is your quickest step, how bringing your knees to your chest in a high jump is similar to layups. But, Griffin fine-tuned it. He added a structure and more in-depth coaching.

While Jordan will have his profile raised for becoming one of Ireland’s next top Paralympians, Jarlath is most proud of Jordan as a person and Jordan the athlete.

“We grew up together. You know, at the end of the day, I was 20/21, and we actually did grow together, fighting over PlayStation, like I still lose in PlayStation every time, like, we only play NBA against each other, he still beats me nine out of 10 times. It’s frustrating sometimes.

“But, of course, I’m always proud of him, not only with the soccer, basketball, high jump, I’m more proud of him with how he manages his time, how he manages to hook up with me, hook up with his step-dad, his mum, you know he fits everybody in. At the moment, he’s coaching his little sister, he does school talks, he actively routinely messages other people missing an arm, I know he’s friends with some of them.

“I am always getting messages from everyone, saying they know that I’m Jordan’s dad. Obviously, the accolades, the other stuff that comes with it, you know, I don’t have to worry about him financially. He’s government-funded, got his car. He’s got his other extras going on. He’s still going to college. I have no worries about him. As a father, you always don’t want to worry about stability. Yeah, you know, so he’s financially stable. Everything’s fine”.

The future is looking bright for Jordan Lee. While his father admits it’s incredibly disappointing not being able to be in Tokyo with his son (“you know we’re all disappointed my own father is 82/83, he wanted to go to Tokyo. He would have gone to Tokyo, he actually went to Dubai for the World Championships”), he admits the Facetime chats with Jordan is nice for the time being.

“They were training in the rain for two hours today. And you know, there was a puddle of water that big,” Jarlath gestures, “If it’s like that in two weeks’ time on the night when he’s jumping, it could be brilliant because that’s what he trains in most days”.

The experience is going to be incredible for Jordan and despite the fact outside expectations aren’t as high as he’d like, his dad assures us that Paris 2024 and LA 2028 are the big ones, and expectations will soar.

For now, as events are being organised in compliance with Covid regulations, Jarlath is looking forward to seeing his son reach soaring new heights, both at home and in his career.

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