Although recent knee surgery will keep Canadian 2012 Olympic gymnastics team honorary captain Christine (Peng-Peng) Lee out of contention for this summer's Games in Rio de Janeiro, she told IG she is eager for the new opportunities that lie ahead after she recovers.
Lee on beam for UCLA in February 2016
"I'm not sure exactly what happened, but I know my left knee was clicking and popping, and it seemed really abnormal," said Lee, a UCLA sociology major from Richmond Hill, Ont. "So I got an MRI and we realized it was a torn meniscus. I just got a scope and they took out the tear. It was a really small tear, so the healing process should be a lot quicker, but I'm still trying to get the swelling down. It's a little more difficult since I've had knee issues, but I'm just trying to everything we can do."
Lee, whose two previous ACL surgeries on the same knee included one that kept her from competing at the 2012 Olympics, said she is unsure how her latest injury occurred.
"It could have been some wear and tear," she said. "I remember landing a vault, and it popped a bit, but it didn't seem like a big issue because sometimes it would pop and sometimes it wouldn't. It was a mysterious thing that was happening, and I was just trying to keep positive, but it came to the point where I needed an MRI to clear my conscience."
Following her surgery three weeks ago, Lee hopes to return to competition in time for the NCAA Regional Championships on April 2.
"It was good that they found something, because then I could move forward and do everything in my will to get my knee really healthy," she said. "For Regionals, I'm looking at competing on bars, because it's not a heavy landing, and hopefully beam. But we're just trying to make sure the swelling is all out and my muscle is firing properly, to make sure it's safe and my knee is super healthy."
Prior to enrolling at UCLA, Lee was one of Canada's leading international competitors. She was the Canadian women's top all-arounder at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo, where she placed 19th in the all-around final. Earlier in 2011 she placed fourth all-around at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara.
Lee led Canada to a Games-winning team berth at the Olympic test event in London in January 2012, where she was sixth all-around in qualifications. She placed third all-around at the Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, Wash., in March 2012; and first on uneven bars and fourth on floor exercise at the Challenge Cup of Osijek, Croatia, in April 2012.
During training at the Canadian championships in May 2012, Lee tore her left ACL on vault. She traveled to the London Olympics that summer as the Canadian team's honorary captain, after which she enrolled at UCLA.
Lee missed the 2012-13 NCAA season while rehabilitating from the injury, and missed the 2013-14 season after she underwent revision ACL surgery in November 2013.
Although Lee initially planned to try for the Rio Games, her latest injury forced her to reconsider. Last November she underwent thumb surgery.
"I've opted out of the Olympics," she said. "It was a really hard decision, but I realized that I've had two surgeries this year and it's not worth it to put my body at risk. I am getting older and my health is a little more important to me now, because I need my body for the rest of my life."
Despite missing the chance to compete in the 2012 and 2016 Games, Lee said she is realistic about her expectations.
"I love the Olympics, and it was such an honor to go in 2012," she said. "I'm still rooting for Team Canada and I'm sure they will do amazingly, but I think it's the best decision to me. I've definitely put a lot of thought into it. My body is telling me that this isn't my time."
Lee said she anticipates future competitions for UCLA.
"I do have two more years of eligibility," she said. "However, I am only going to use one more year of it to stay for a fifth year."
The 22-year-old Lee said she is optimistic about upcoming experiences in and out of the gym.
"I'm looking forward to other, new things in my life," she told IG. "I'm excited for the future. Rio would have been an amazing opportunity, but the Olympics isn't something that's going to define me. I'm really looking forward to everything else in life. I've learned a lot about myself, especially being in college. There's so much more to life."