When she was in eighth grade, a gymnastics-related injury helped now-freshman gymnast Rachel Lee determine what she wanted to do with the rest of her life — outside of the balance beam, of course.
While doing gymnastics, Lee fractured and dislocated her elbow and had to go to physical therapy in order to rehabilitate the injury. It was because of this, she said, that she is now in the physical therapy program at Ithaca College.
“I had all these amazing people help me,” she said. “I wanted to do that because I like seeing the joy on people’s faces knowing that I made a difference in their lives.”
Though the injury helped her decide on a career, Lee said she has pretty much always known she wanted to do gymnastics.
“I started when I was 2 years old,” she said. “My sister was a gymnast and she was 3 1/2 years old, and I always watched her. I wanted to do gymnastics because it looked like fun.”
For Lee, the fun quickly turned into a competitive outlet — one in which she experienced quite a bit of success — as she competed in club gymnastics during high school. The Landenberg, Pennsylvania, native won three state championships on beam while competing for KMC Dance and Gymnastics Center.
When it came time to pick a college, Lee was most likely talented enough to compete at the Division I level. However, these days, athletes, especially gymnasts, get recruited early on in their careers. It is common that they start to get recruited in ninth grade, before they even reach high school. For example, an Inside Gymnastics article published in April 2014 mentioned twin gymnasts Anna and Grace Glen, who committed to the University of California, Los Angeles, when they were just 14 years old.
Lee said because she started contacting coaches toward the end of her junior year of high school, she missed out on the chance to garner Division I attention.
In the end, Lee had the choice between Ithaca College and Ursinus College, and she chose to make the move out of Pennsylvania to pursue her gymnastics-inspired dream of becoming a physical therapist.
Ever since, Lee has been excelling for the Bombers. She received a score of a 9.7 in her first meet on beam, which was the highest score on the team this season.
Head coach Rick Suddaby said he has taken notice of Lee, who is one of 13 freshman gymnasts competing for the South Hill squad this season.
“She is clean, consistent and makes difficult things seem easy,” he said. “Rachel is one of many of our new gymnasts that are taking Bomber gymnastics back to the level we were at in the later 1990s. She is currently ranked 11th in the country on beam.”
This season, Lee has competed on the balance beam — her favorite event — on the vault and on the uneven bars. The only event she hasn’t competed in is floor exercise. Suddaby said due to her success in the rest of the events, he hopes she will compete as an all-around gymnast in the future.
“Rachel could be a great all-around,” he said. “Floor is her least-favorite event, and she has chosen to focus on her other three events. She will not compete all-around this year, as far as the future, we’ll see.”
Senior Val Cohen said Lee brings an enormous amount of talent and ability to the team.
“She is honestly one of the most talented gymnasts I’ve worked out with in the past four years here at IC,” she said. “But she is also the most humble person I’ve ever met. It’s really rare to have the opportunity to be on a team with someone who is so incredibly talented yet so humble and down to earth. She doesn’t think of herself as any better or higher up than everyone else, even though her talent is way beyond what most of us have.”