Jen Lee: G.I. Joe turned three-time Paralympic gold medalist

Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images /

Army veteran and three-time Paralympic gold medalist Jen Lee has a unique perspective on representing his country.

As an eight-year-old, Jen Lee, moved with his family from Taipei, Taiwan to the United States — the land of opportunity, with a dream of being an athlete and a “G.I. Joe” one day. Eventually, motivated by September 11, 2001, and the wave of patriotism that followed, Lee enlisted in the military.

In 2009 while Lee was stationed in Savannah, Georgia, and riding motorcycles as a hobby, an accident would change the course of his life.

“It was a typical Saturday morning and me and four of my other riding buddies rode down from Savannah, Georgia, to Jacksonville, Florida. And on the way back up on Interstate 95, unfortunately, I was struck by a vehicle while I was in the right lane, the lady was in the middle lane,” Lee told FanSided.

Two months later, Lee had his right leg amputated and got military orders to do his rehabilitation and medical treatment in San Antonio, Texas where he learned how to play sled hockey. Never did he think that it would take him to the Paralympics.

“When I got in my accident and lost my leg, it was definitely a huge blow at least for me because I didn’t know if I could walk again, run again, or do the basics,” said Lee. “I wanted to continue to serve my country but even then, the senior leadership had no idea if you could even do that.”

The military was an eye-opening experience for Lee. It was a chapter that closed quickly but opened up another for him.

“The military helped me in different ways, as far as trusting one another, understanding the definition of teamwork and comradery, and at the same time, the maturity of how you face different scenarios that come your way,” said Lee.

“So, for me to find a way to be able to stay in the military, but at the same time, be able to connect through Paralympic sports and still represent my country in a different way, it is something that I had no idea was possible,” said Lee.

Lee continued with sled hockey and became one of the best players in the country. He served as the team’s backup goalie and won gold medals in both the Paralympic Games in Sochi (2014) and Pyeongchang (2018). He made his Paralympic debut as the starting goaltender in Beijing (2022) after longtime goaltender Steve Cash hung up his skates in October of 2021 after winning his final Para-Sled Hockey World Championship in June.

Jen Lee didn’t disappoint in his first big Paralympic moment

In his first Paralympic games as the starter, Lee didn’t allow a goal in any of his four starts, turning back all 33 shots he faced. In the gold-medal game, he made 16 saves to get his third shutout of the tournament.

“My teammates gave me the nickname “the wall” but if I’m ‘the wall,’ then, the 16 guys in front of me are the bricks that made up the wall,” said Lee.

On March 13, Team USA’s sled hockey team beat Canada, 5-0 in the 2022 Paralympics Games in Beijing, winning their fourth consecutive gold medal in Paralympic sled hockey and fifth overall Paralympic title.

“It’s so great that this is our fifth gold medal for our program and I’m super glad and honored to be a part of three out of the five that we’ve won. It’s one of those things that you never thought could happen, never dreamed it could happen, but it’s one of those things that has been written,” said Lee.

Those five goals in the final were the most by a team in a gold-medal game, with the previous largest victory by any team in a gold-medal game being Canada’s 3-0 win over Norway in 2006.

With this gold medal win, Team USA made history as the only undefeated team with a 4-0 record, having outscored its opponents 30-1. They now hold five of the eight Paralympic golds in the sport dating back to when it was first added in 1994, with no other country winning more than one gold medal.

“Goaltending is a lifelong journey, that from the first time you put the pads on or you put that vest on … You always grow from it. A lot of ups and downs. Not everything is all sunshine and rainbows, [but] to be able to compete in three different games and make a little career out of it for 12 years, is something I will forever cherish,” said Lee.

From soldier to Paralympic gold-medalist, Lee has a unique perspective on what it means to serve his country. In the future, Lee says he hopes to keep representing his country both on and off the ice, and doing what he can to continue his run of Paralympic success.

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