As mentioned above, Jiří didn’t have an easy or ideal start of his career as an athlete. Jiří Ježek lost his right leg below the knee when he was 11 and a truck hit him when he was crossing the street but today, he considers it a wakeup call to finally realizing his dreams. By the age of 20, he had taken up competitive cycling as a hobby and started to emerge as one of the world’s best Para-cyclists only five years later. Then came the major successes, championships won and Paralympic golden medals collected at 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, and 2012 London – 11 in total. The first victory brought him the attention and funds of sponsors so he was able to leave his job as a prosthetics technician and become a cycling pro fulltime. At the height of his career, he was taking on able-bodied athletes and averaging 27-30 thousand kilometres on a bike a year. Just recently, he’s been recognized as one of the greatest athletes of the 21st century and deservedly so. Ježek announced his retirement from professional cycling in October 2017 but is still active as a cyclist, coach and cycling ambassador. Furthermore, Jiří is a former captain of the Czech National Paralympic Team.
Find out more about Jiří in the previous article we published.
When Jiří Ježek connected, he joined Laura with his notoriously sunny disposition despite the initial technical hitches. The livestream caught him in the middle of a busy house moving with his entire family so Laura jokingly remarked that this might be the worst time to have this interview but Jiří replied in his characteristic unbothered fashion: “That’s life. Thank you for the break.”
After clearing up the situation surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak in his home country, the Czech Republic, Jiří stated that he was happy to be riding outside with friends again and that the course of the last few months wasn’t that bad regarding Czech cyclists but it was certainly a challenge for anyone. “It was quite difficult for everyone, not only the athletes, and especially for the elderly. I’ve been helping with my bike and going shopping for those who couldn’t around my house.”
Before their delved into Jiří’s rich career, Laura wanted to know how he’s been keeping busy since his official retirement in 2017. “I left professional cycling, I left races, but I’ve never left cycling. […] I try to ride a bike every day, I try to help the race’s organizers, I like to visit the races, sometimes I promote them, I’m the man with the microphone at the races, I try to be a motivation to young riders.” Jiří further confessed that he considers himself a social rider and truly enjoys cycling with friends – he’s done with training, with races (maybe just for fun) and he just rides his bike. “Being an ambassador for We Love Cycling is something that keeps me in the cycling family and business so I’m really happy that I’m one of the promoters in the world and I’m trying to speak about how positive cycling is for your health and for your brain.”
Of course, Jiří’s life curve is so unique it always pops up during interviews. “As a young kid, I wanted to be a professional football player. […] I played for the best Prague team but, to be honest, my motivation for being a football player was bigger than my talent. When I was 11 years old, I had bad luck when I was crossing a road. I ended up under a big truck and the result was that I woke up in the hospital without one leg. It was such a hard moment for me because I wanted to be a football player but at the same time I found out I couldn’t be a football player anymore.”
Jiří continues that he then started to think of a new way how to face his life because he wanted to go back to all beloved activities as soon as possible using a prosthetic. When he found out he can run again, he jumped right back into volleyball, basketball and others and stressed that every activity he was able to take on made his self-confidence and motivation stronger. “Sport helped me to find my way back to normal life in a big way.” He’s also glad that his never-give-up attitude sends a message to people struggling to stay active with disabilities and he also holds motivational sessions or speeches for those looking to find their way into sports.
And who, ultimately, brought Jiří to Para-cycling? It was one of his patients back then when he was still making prostheses – by a stroke of luck, the first Czech Para-cyclist. They got talking and the rest is history, literally, as Jiří then went on to become the current world’s best Para-cyclist and famous Paralympian.
Catch up with the eighth #Ride2Unite livestream with Jiří Ježek in its entirety above.
For all the previous streams, head over to the We Love Cycling Instagram page.