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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, June 15, 2024

From brown and blue to red, white and blue: Jumbos in Paris Olympic Games

Jesse Grupper (E’19) and Alex Flynn (A’26) will represent Team USA this summer in Paris.

From brown and blue to red, white and blue: Jumbos in Paris Olympic Games graphic
Graphic by Bex Povill

There is no higher honor in sports than competing in the Olympic or Paralympic Games. To hear your nation’s national anthem, to bear the blazing torch and to gaze at the interlocking rings is to be etched in athletics lore for eternity.

At the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, 15,440 athletes participated in the Olympics and Paralympics. Over the last four years, thousands more have worked tirelessly, practicing their craft for countless hours, to be among the select few with the opportunity to compete at the 2024 Paris Games.

When the eyes of the world tune in on July 26, two of the athletes on their televisions will be Tufts Jumbos. Jesse Grupper (E’19) and sophomore Alex Flynn will both represent Team USA this summer. Grupper will compete in boulder and lead climbing, while Flynn will compete in Paralympic rowing. 

For both athletes, their participation is a culmination of a lifetime of hard work and persistence, with their time at Tufts playing a key role in their success.

Grupper’s introduction to climbing came at a young age. “My sister started climbing when I was about six years old, and I was brought to the gym with her pretty consistently,” he said. “I had a ton of energy as a kid. … I started taking lessons when I was about six and I just never looked back. It just always felt like the sport for me.”

Even while a student at Tufts, Grupper continued to make climbing a part of his life. Balancing training and academics improved his performance in both, as the two ultimately complemented each other.

“I’ve always found that balancing climbing and school or work has always made both a little bit better,” Grupper said. “When I was at Tufts, … I would structure my day so that I would try to get most of the brunt work [of] school done within the start of the day. … Then, in the evenings, I would go to the gym that was local to us — it’s called [Central Rock Gym] — and I would spend probably three hours there.”

The most impactful and informative lessons of Grupper’s climbing career came in the classroom. A mechanical engineering major, Grupper built skills in critical thinking and problem-solving, which translated seamlessly into climbing.

“With climbing, you start with a start hold and you have some amount of holds in between that and the finish hold, and it’s up to you to figure out and be creative about the method that you’re going to use to get to the top,” Grupper said. “And, similarly, with engineering, you’re given a problem statement and you’re given some tools to get out with, and it’s up to you what that problem solution will look like.”

After graduating from Tufts in 2019, Grupper made the bold decision to turn professional. Since then, he has traveled the world, competing in places ranging from France to Singapore to South Africa.

“It’s been quite a wild ride,” Grupper said. “Right after Tufts, I was quite excited to spend a year just focusing on rock climbing and competition climbing in general, and I set off at the end of 2018 competing on the World Cup circuit. I thought that that would be it, that would be my year, and then, I would retire. … I was wrong.”

Once Grupper turned professional, he continued to excel. On the 2022 Overall Lead World Cup circuit, Grupper finished third. That same year, he won the National Team Trials in Atlanta. Rock climbing was introduced as a sport at the 2020 Games, providing a clear, but still daunting, goal of qualifying for the next edition of the games.

“The Olympics, in general, has always been a dream for me … but it kind of felt like climbing wasn’t something that the Olympics … thought should be included,” Grupper said. “The first realization was having it be included, and then I think the next time that I realized for myself was in 2022 when I qualified for the combined discipline which is the format for the Olympics going into Paris. And I think that was when I fully realized that this was a possibility.”

Finally, at the 2023 Pan American Games, a dream was realized. Grupper dominated the Boulder and Lead Combined discipline in Santiago, Chile, taking home the gold and qualifying for the Olympics.

For sophomore Alex Flynn, the wait to go to the games was shorter — just two years of collegiate rowing. A native of nearby Danvers, Mass., who also skis and wakeboards, Flynn brings a breadth of experience to this summer’s Paralympic Games.

Similar to Grupper, Flynn found his sport accidentally — he needed something to do after school. Eventually, he found his way to Tufts, where he raced the varsity 4V8 boat as a first-year. In the summer of 2023, he was selected by USRowing to compete at the PR3 mixed four boat at the World Rowing Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. He also earned the opportunity to compete at the 2023 Para Rowing Regatta to Paris prior to the World Championships, on the same course that the Paralympics will be held this summer.

The summer of 2023 was quite successful for Flynn. He garnered a silver medal in the PR3 mixed four with coxswain and won gold in the PR3 mixed four with coxswain at the 2023 Para Rowing Regatta to Paris. The results marked the second time in Flynn’s international career that he placed in the PR3 mixed four, as he finished fifth at the 2022 World Championships. With a return to Paris in the cards again this summer, Flynn is hoping that he can add to his trophy cabinet.

No matter the outcome of their events this summer, Grupper and Flynn will have the experience of a lifetime. Wearing red, white and blue, the pair will have the chance to show the world their talent, passion and hard work, and how a stint in brown and blue helped get them to the zenith of global sport.