To celebrate the Paralympics, we wanted to share stories from some of the amazing athletes who will be participating in the games. To kick off our series, we will be introducing you to Jen Lee. Lee is a two-time sled hockey paralympic gold medalist who we had the great pleasure of speaking with. He was born in Taiwan and emigrated to the US when he was 8yrs old.
At the age of 11, Lee was greatly impacted by the events of 9/11 and was strongly moved to serve our country. He enlisted in the army straight out of highschool and began his training as a helicopter electrician and soon after, his career as an aircraft mechanic for the U.S. Armed Forces. One weekend afternoon in 2009 when Lee was stationed in Savannah, GA, he buddies went for a motorcycle ride to Florida as they had regularly done. Unfortunately, that day on their return home, Lee was clipped by a driver who did not see him and he was quite severely injured.
The accident initially resulted in a below the knee amputation, but due to complications while healing his doctors amputated above the knee one month later. Although Lee was stationed in GA, all of his medical care, prosthetics, and support was being handled in Jacksonville, FL, a 2 hour drive away.
During our interview, Lee recalled that he had never met anyone with an above the knee amputation before, he didn’t have much knowledge about what life might be like with a prosthetic leg, and he was trying to learn what he could to give himself the greatest advantage. In seeking answers and support, Lee attended a support group of about 4-5 amputees. They would sit in a small circle, and the energy was low and dark, and Lee worried that this was his future. Back in Savannah, GA, the PT facility that Lee was training in didn’t have equipment to treat amputees, which made his recovery program even more difficult.
Fortunately, everything changed when Lee got his orders to transfer to the CFI Center for the Intrepid in Texas. It was at CFI that Lee encountered many wounded warriors and military members who re-ignited a spark that he had been missing since his accident. Lee spoke highly of the drive and perseverance his cohorts portrayed and credits their tough love and support with challenging himself to be better, mentally and physically. One of the ways in which Lee began to challenge himself was by participating in many different parasports and games. The CFI hosts a multitude of adaptive sports for therapy like volleyball, basketball, and sled hockey.
Lee had played hockey for fun when he was a kid, and played competitively at the junior level, but as he got older, his priorities shifted to other sports like football. Because of his remembered fondness of hockey in his childhood, and because it is the most active of the adaptive sports, he picked up the sport at CFI, which was sponsored by Operation Comfort. During this time, the paralympics were becoming more popular in the media and the paralympic committee began searching for athletes to build up their teams. It was during this period that the paralympic committee reached out to Lee and invited him to begin training for the paralympic sled hockey trials.
Although Lee was medically discharged in 2015, he is still incredibly active with the army and supporting soldiers who are recovering from similar injuries to his. When he is not training, he likes to attend support groups and bring positive energy and hope to those who are sitting where he was in 2009.
As a current member of Team USA, Lee brings a lot of his military skills to team practices and competitions. The military is about cohesiveness, teamwork, and homogeny, everyone needs to be on the same page and work as one to achieve a goal. Sled hockey gave Lee an additional competitive drive, and the relationships and bonds formed with his teammates is priceless to him. After his accident, Lee never thought he would have that bond and commitment to a common goal again.
6 weeks out from the competition, the team is stationed in a facility where they are able to practice together every day up until they depart for Beijing. During this time they bond and build chemistry as teammates, watch videos of past games, come up with different plans for offense and defense, and practice them on the ice. Lee says that they are like brothers, always pushing each other to do their best and succeed.
After practice, the team works to make sure their bodies are taken care of and recovered for the next practice. They maintain their muscle health by taking a hot or ice bath, doing mobility and range of motion PT exercises and stretches, and utilizing Normatech products. Diet is incredibly important for athletes, so the team cooks meals together and eats together every day. Rest is also incredibly important for athlete performance, Lee is particularly partial to a good nap and likes to fit one into his daily schedule.
Lee says that there are 6 new members on the Team USA’s Sled Hockey team, and he is very much looking forward to enjoying the experience of competing in the 2022 Paralympic Games with them. Lee always looks forward to meeting new athletes from across the globe, bonding with them, and sharing these priceless experiences with them. At the end of the games, they all gather together and exchange mementos like pins or clothing that they have been given at the games. Lee is looking forward to the celebration they will all share at the end of the games, and of course seeing friends and family when he returns home. After returning home from the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games, Team USA will be invited to celebrate at the White House with the President.
When asked what advice he has to share with potential future parasport athletes, Lee said his best advice is to try as many sports as you can, even if you don’t think you will like it. And if you do find your sport, to be sure to put in the work. You will be surprised how far persistence and consistency can take you!