Mar 13, 2023

Blind Paralympian Reaching New Heights

Beacon Stories

Isaac Jean-Paul was diagnosed with X-linked juvenile retinoschisis (XLRS) at the age of two. Isaac was always set on being a professional athlete, and now he’s a Paralympian, winning bronze in the long jump in the 2020 Games and breaking the high jump world record three times.

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Inspired by his collegiate basketball Hall of Fame mom, Isaac Jean-Paul has always been determined to be a professional athlete from an early age. Isaac doesn’t remember a time he wasn’t playing sports, but he also doesn’t remember a time when he was fully sighted.

Isaac was diagnosed with X-linked juvenile retinoschisis (XLRS) at the age of two. But Isaac’s eye doctors advised his parents to let him navigate his disability on his own and to not hold him back from anything.

“I didn't identify with my disability until I got much older,” Isaac recalls. “When I was younger, I just thought, this is how everybody sees.”

Growing up, Isaac started to realize he was different than his peers in school when he had to sit in the front of the class or use large print textbooks. But when it came to sports, like football and basketball, he felt more comfortable in his own skin and like there was an even playing field for him.

After not making the high school basketball team, Isaac tried out for the track team instead. Although his coach thought he was fast, Isaac wasn’t a fan of sprint training. So he turned to the high jump and later broke the school record during his senior year.

Coach Odel, Isaac’s high school track coach, gave him the second chance he needed to start over in a new sport and the boost in confidence he needed at an important time in his life.

“When I was younger, I felt invincible, like my vision didn't matter,” says Isaac. “I had my eyes set on being a professional athlete. It wasn’t until I got older that I started to identify as an athlete with a disability. Now I’m the blind high jumper or the blind long jumper.”

Isaac soaring in the air over the bar for the high jump.

In 2017, Isaac met Markeith Price, another visually impaired track and field Paralympic athlete, and he introduced him to the idea of participating in the Paralympic Games. Isaac then made the Paralympic track and field world championship team for the high jump, where he broke the world record three times, winning gold. And in the 2020 Paralympic Games, he placed third in the long jump, receiving a bronze medal. Isaac’s personal record in the high jump is 7’3”.

“I do have limited vision; I still see some, but I think the most beneficial sense that I have is my sense of feel,” says Isaac. “My vision loss never stopped me from believing in myself.”

Isaac credits his amazing support system for all his success. He was always encouraged to try new things and never limit himself.

“A lot of people in my life gave me the confidence that I can be something, that I can do something,” says Isaac. “And it just corresponded with the career that I'm in.”

Isaac is also the track and field coach for adaptive sports at San Diego State University, coaching alongside fellow Paralympian Ahkeel Whitehead.

“I love the phrase of ‘be your own superhero,’ so that’s what I like to teach my athletes,” says Isaac. “Growing up with a disability is difficult, and there's going be a lot of people that put you in a box and make you believe that you can't do certain things. So I want to instill a certain confidence in my athletes about their disabilities. Your disability can be your superpower.”

Many of the students Isaac works with come in believing they can’t do the tasks he gives them. But their actions and successes make it all worth it for Isaac.

In addition, Isaac is currently training to qualify for the upcoming Paralympics and Olympic teams. 

“When you look at me, you wouldn't say, ‘oh, this guy is blind,’” says Isaac. “When I try to explain my vision to people, they often don't believe me because of the stuff that I'm able to do. There was a time when I just felt by myself and like there was no one I could relate to, but finding the Foundation Fighting Blindness has made me feel like I’m not alone.”

Check out the Mental Health Awareness Month video featuring Isaac.