Describing Irish Paralympic star Jordan Lee in just a word is incredibly difficult.
Throughout his life, people have taken one look at his missing forearm and thought: ‘disabled’ – though Jordan is anything but.
For the record, that isn’t just a colourful soundbite, the 21-year-old Co. Kerry native is a multi-talented trailblazer, who grabbed the world’s attention by becoming the first ever one-handed basketball player to represent their country a few years ago.
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Jordan was born with amniotic band syndrome, which restricted the growth of his left arm, but ever since he was a tot he’s been proving that he can do everything a two-handed person can … and then some.
His father, grandfather and uncle all played basketball at a high level so it was only natural he’d follow in their footsteps, but family pedigree wasn’t enough to shield him from the stigma of effectively having 50% of the tools necessary to take part.
“I remember my first training session when I was five-years-old. It was like a scene from a movie,” Jordan recalls speaking exclusively to Daily Star Sport. “Everybody froze as soon as I opened the door, the basketballs suddenly stopped bouncing and you could hear people whispering to each other and pointing at me.”
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In that moment, Jordan had a decision to make. He was either going to let the glaring and whispering knock his confidence, or he was going to use it as fuel. He chose the latter.
“I never viewed my arm as a disability, I always saw it as a gift, and that’s still my outlook to this day,” Jordan beams. “Whenever I’m told I can’t do something, it only makes me want to try and prove people wrong, and I’ve been that way my whole life.”
Nine years later he was shooting hoops for Ireland (how’s that for proving people wrong?), though towards the end of school Jordan’s career took an intriguing turn thanks to a chance meeting with Irish Paralympic sprinter Jason Smyth.
Like Jordan, Smyth made a name for himself blurring the lines between abled and disabled athletes by becoming Ireland’s fastest man, and he encouraged the teenager to consider switching to athletics, with trainers from four different disciplines keen to take him on.
Considering he already had a pretty good leap on him, Jordan opted for the high jump, and just eight months later he won Bronze at the European Championships. A strong performance at the World Championships followed the year after and it wasn’t long before Ireland’s Paralympic team came calling.
He walked into last summer's Tokyo Games not only as one of the youngest athletes there, but also as Ireland’s flag-bearer for the opening ceremony – an honour he says he’ll never forget.
“I still get goose-bumps [thinking about it],” Jordan tells us. “When they told me I started crying. It’s the rarest honour anyone has the privilege to do. I usually don’t get nervous, but I was when lifting that flag, especially in the Olympic Stadium with the Japanese Emperor looking down at you.”
Sadly, he couldn’t mark the incredible occasion with a performance to match, but the super-driven youngster insists he’s got six years yet until he reaches his prime – plenty of time, he says, to become the best in the world.
“I want to go into Paris [2024 Paralympics] challenging for a medal, but I want to be in my prime for Los Angeles in 2028. I want to be the best in the world. I make no secret of it. You need to have high expectations,” Jordan says.
“Growing up, if I said to people that I was going to play basketball for Ireland, they’d have said that’ll never happen. Or that I’d be going to the Paralympics after just three-and-a-half years of training, same thing. But if you’re putting in the work and you believe hard enough that you can do it, then almost anything is possible.”
In the meantime, Jordan is helping to combat the taboo of disability in society, visiting schools across Ireland telling kids his life story – an initiative he calls ‘Jordan’s Drive’.
“I explain to them why you shouldn’t be afraid of people with disabilities and how you should act around them, not to be rude and just treat them like any other person. We don’t want to be put on a pedestal.
“I forget I’m missing my arm the majority of the time. I’m just Jordan, and all I want is to be treated like everybody else. That’s the message I want to get across.”
He makes an excellent point. Making judgments based on what we see around us is an inevitable part of being human, but once you push beyond that, you get a much clearer picture.
It’s the same with Jordan. At a glance he’s a guy with one arm, but by talking to him you discover everything else – that he’s a supremely impressive young man, wise beyond his years, with one heck of an appetite for making the best for himself and everyone around him.
“I often get asked what my greatest achievement is, and it’s being able to inspire people,” adds Jordan. “For people to come up to me and say ‘I’m their hero’, and that I’ve helped them out of tricky situations and helped them along in their journey to adapting and learning new things, it makes me so proud.
“Being able to be a positive influence in people's lives, that’s very powerful. And it’s important for me to give back whenever I can.
“That’s when I’m at my happiest.”
'Jordan Lee is an ambassador and athlete for Herbalife Nutrition, a leading global nutrition and wellbeing company with over 40 years’ experience in creating great-tasting and science-backed nutrition and wellbeing products.'
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