Dad of 18-year-old Paralympian on his No. 1 parenting tip: ‘I never told him his dream was impossible'

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Track and field star Ezra Frech, 18, deals with an unusual level of pressure. He made his Paralympic debut in Tokyo and holds the world-record for the T63 high jump, which he broke twice in July.

Ezra, who was born with congenital limb differences and received his first prosthetic leg at 11 months, began competing in track and field events in 2013 and will represent Team USA at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.

The journey has had its share of highs and lows, and Ezra's father, Clayton, has had a front-row seat. But he hasn't simply been a spectator, either. Here's what he's learned.

'I never told him [his dream] was impossible'

One big mistake parents make, Clayton tells CNBC Make It, is telling kids what they can't do. He recalls that Ezra once wanted to go into the NBA.

"I never told him that was impossible," Clayton says. "I didn't know that was impossible, but it seemed pretty hard as an above-knee amputee to go to the NBA. But, you know, if they can define their own goals, and then you could find a way to just get behind him and support them, I think that's the path out of that."

Ezra, who grew up immersed in basketball as well as baseball, soccer, flag football, skateboarding, karate, and surfing, eventually traded his NBA dreams for competing in high jump, long jump and sprint events at the international level.

He made his Paralympic debut for the 2020 Tokyo Games but placed fifth in the T63 high jump, missing the podium.

It was disappointing for the rising athlete, and "it was the worst night of my life as a parent to see your kids so devastated and disappointed in their own performance," Clayton says. "And doing it publicly on the world stage is extra hard."

"As a parent, when your kids succeed, it's better than when you succeed on your own, but when they fail, it's way worse than failing on your own," Clayton says. "But I think reminding them about the journey, either the impact or the things that they're accomplishing" can help ease the sting of disappointment in the moment.

Clayton reminded his son of the work he was doing as a disability advocate and ambassador for adaptive sports.

"It's not really about the results," Clayton says. "The results are great, but it's really about impact and educating the world about the Paralympics and disability."

The best advice for raising a highly successful kid

One of the hardest things about parenting a highly successful kid like Ezra is balancing "being supportive but not giving them too much pressure," Clayton says.

Instead, he says it's important to "let them set their own goals, and don't project your own personal goals" onto them.

The best parenting advice he's learned when raising Ezra and his two other children is to "find ways to attach yourself to their dreams," Clayton adds. Encourage new interests, however big or small, without pushing too many expectations of how those hobbies will evolve over time.

"That's what we've tried to do as a family, just kind of get behind our kids and their dreams," Clayton says, "whether it's gardening, or a sport or aquarium cleaning."

"Most kids will change their dreams a million times along the way," he adds, "so you just have to bring some patience and grace for that."

The key is being flexible and helping your child understand how to set their own goals in their hobbies, Clayton says. "They're gonna realize sometimes their goals are hard to achieve, and they're gonna shift goals, and that's perfectly natural."

In addition to competing, Ezra is a motivational speaker and in 2013 created Angel City Sports and the Angel City Games, an annual multi-sport competition for athletes with disabilities. Ezra calls advocacy some of his most meaningful work: "I love to inspire and normalize disability in any way that I can."

Most importantly, Clayton adds, "We try to have fun and and try to enjoy the ride too. So if the medals don't come exactly as planned, that's OK."

Watch the Paris Paralympics next summer on NBC and Peacock.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through 2032.

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