2012 Canadian Olympic team honorary captain Christine (Peng-Peng) Lee spoke with IG this week about the knee injury that kept her out of the Olympics, the new phase of her career as a UCLA student-athlete, and the prospect of returning to international competition.
Lee, who was named Gymnastics Canada's Women's Gymnastics International Athlete of the Year for 2011-2012, tore her left ACL while training on vault at the Canadian championships last May. She traveled to last summer's London Games as honorary captain of the Canadian team that finished fifth, its best in Olympic history.
Prior to enrolling at UCLA, Lee, who hails from Richmond Hill, Ont., trained at Sport Seneca in Toronto and then at Oakville Gymnastics in Oakville, Ont. Lee's former coaches included Carol-Angela Orchard and Brian McVey (Sport Seneca), and Kelly Manjak, Sue Manjak and Lorne Bobkin (Oakville).
The 19-year-old Lee enrolled at UCLA last fall, and is eager to enter the line-up for collegiate competitions as soon as her knee heals completely. IG spoke with Lee at UCLA this week, to share her thoughts on her injury, academic life and the possibility of trying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Lee competing for Canada at the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships
IG: How is your rehab going?
CL: Rehab is going really well. I've been doing a lot of strengthening, and I do rehab basically three times a week. I've started to jog, and we have an anti-gravity machine that I'm jogging on, so I'm not jogging with my full body weight, but I'm getting there. My knee feels really good, and I'm getting a lot stronger every day, so I'm really happy with how everything is going.
IG: How have you adjusted to the training regimen for college gymnastics?
CL: I love it. I love coming to training every day, because the girls are all so nice, and everyone is so supportive. It's just a really nice atmosphere to be in, and it doesn't really feel like I'm going to training sometimes, because I really want to do it, too. I still have that passion and that drive to learn and relearn everything. So even the little things I'm doing, like skipping, I'm enjoying, because I'm allowed to do something. On bars I'm starting to do Jaegers, so I'm doing a lot of those. I'm just having a lot of fun. I love it here.
IG: What is the chance of you competing this season?
CL: I'm not really sure. Right now I'm redshirted, but I haven't gotten cleared to do any running or gymnastics, so it all depends. But I'm not really worried about it. I'm enjoying my experience, and everything will fall into place.
IG: What is your course load this term?
CL: I have Life Science II, English Comp II and a general requirement class, so I'm taking a lot of general requirements this year.
IG: Which major are you leaning toward?
CL: It's really funny, because I was leaning toward the sciences, but then I was thinking that I can't really see myself doing that. So I'm going to switch over and look more on the business side, like marketing or advertising - something involving people, because I love to work with people. I'd like to work in the media. That would be really cool.
But I want to minor in something like theatre.
IG: What was it like singing "Moves Like Jagger" with (American Idol season 11 contestant) Kyle Khou at the UCLA meet last month?
CL: I used to sing when I was younger, but that (duet with Khou) was kind of different for me, because I like the slower songs. It's just a hobby. I have a guitar in my room, and I'll just sing in my room to kind of slow down everything when everything gets to be a little too much.
IG: Being in LA, are you looking into acting at all?
CL: I've done acting before when I was younger, as well, and then when I had my back injury, I went to the same acting school in Toronto as all the Degrassi ("Degrassi: The Next Generation," Canadian television drama) go. Miley Cyrus went there, too. It's something I like to do on the side. Gymnastics is always a big part of my life, so I like to do other things, because I like to keep moving and keep interested.
Lee sings with American Idol contestant Kyle Khou
IG: Overall what do you think of life in LA? Have you been homesick?
CL: I love it. It does get a lot cooler than I thought, though. I didn't think I'd need my winter jacket (laughs), but I was considering pulling it out of my closet. It's funny, because I don't really get homesick that much, but I did miss my friends and the atmosphere at home. It's a lot different, but I've adjusted really well to living on my own. It was just the time when I wanted to move out of the house and start my own journey. I love it here.
IG: How much contact do you have with your Canadian teammates these days?
CL: I talk to some of them. I haven't stayed in touch with everything, competition-wise, but I've been really busy down here so it's hard to keep updated. I still talk to (2012 Canadian Olympian and Stanford Univ. gymnast) Kristina Vaculik. She's one of my really good friends. I talk to Tal (Talia Chiarelli), too. I'll message them once in a while, but not that often.
IG: What are your thoughts about giving the 2016 Olympics in Rio a shot?
CL: I have given it thought, and I would love to go to 2016. It's so far down the road, but I still have that passion, and I love competing internationally and going to international competitions. I just love that atmosphere. I also really want to do the 2015 Pan American Games, because they are in Toronto, so that would be amazing to do. I don't want to go to 2016 just because it's the Olympics, but because I would love to do it, too. I don't think I'm done, yet.
IG: To some of your fans it seems as though you have some unfinished business...
CL: That's what it feels like. I still have that drive and I really want to do it, given the opportunity. I feel that gymnastics gets easier as you get older, because of the mental game, especially in college because you compete every weekend. So it will be a lot of fun to just bring that experience to the Elite level world. I would love to go to 2016. That would be awesome.
Lee is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:
April 2011 – Lee interview
June 2006 - "A Passion for Performing" (Lee profile)
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