Orange Lutheran junior Megan Lee is self-described as one of those kids who always wanted to try every activity. From dance, to piano, to choir, she has had a myriad of interests. But where her passion lies today is the result of an intentional path that involved both a tough decision and a leap of faith.
Taekwondo is a sport that has deep roots in Lee’s family. Her grandfather was a grandmaster, and her father spent time training at his studio. So it was not unexpected when her younger brother began taking lessons locally at Eagle Taekwondo in Tustin. After watching his training from the sidelines, Lee decided to give it a try as well. By age nine, she had earned her black belt.
Once this accomplishment is achieved, it is not uncommon for many kids to step away from taekwondo and forego joining the tournament circuit. And Lee might have easily done the same if it were not for her coach, Grandmaster Jung Hwan Jin. He saw in her a unique talent and asked her to join the studio’s competition team.
As a member of the Eagle Taekwondo Poomsae Team, Lee began training with her teammates while also participating in another activity she enjoyed even more – dance. The frequent practices and long hours spent preparing for competitions left little time for dancing. So at the age of 10, she needed to make the choice between an activity she truly loved and a sport in which she showed great promise.
“I went with my gut feeling and chose taekwondo, even though at the time I liked dance more,” says Lee. “I just felt like what my coach was saying to me about my potential and how far I could end up going was really convincing.”
Hindsight is often 20/20, and in looking at Lee’s trajectory in taekwondo since her decision, she clearly made the right choice. In what could be described as a meteoric rise in the sport, she began to see success at each level of competition she entered. At the age of 12, she earned a place on the USA National Taekwondo Poomsae Team, at the youngest allowable age, and traveled to Lima, Peru, for the 2016 World Poomsae Championships, where she and her teammates won the bronze medal.
“It was really hard for me to choose taekwondo over dance, but I’m really glad I did because I would not be where I am today if I had chosen dance,” says Lee. “I’m really grateful for my coach who helped convince me and for having faith in me that I would be something later on.”
Now at age 16 and with 10 years in the sport, Lee has an impressive list of accomplishments to her name, including her favorite moment from earlier this year when she competed in the 2020 Poomsae Grand Slam Final and Team Trials in Colorado. Sweeping gold in each division – individual, pairs and team – she again earned herself a spot on Team USA.
“That was really special for me because I had never really qualified for Team USA with all three,” says Lee.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 World Poomsae Championships scheduled to be held in Denmark this past May were canceled. Despite her disappointment, Lee and her teammates continue to train and prepare for when they can compete again, even if it is remotely.
“Something I love about the taekwondo community is that we keep trying to figure out ways that we can continue to better ourselves, even with everything shutting down,” says Lee. “We didn’t just close the sport. We continue to try and find new ways to keep going and train hard in a safe way.”
As with all martial arts disciplines, respect is at the heart of taekwondo, and Lee has embraced that quality in all areas of her life. A blend of speed, power and precision, the sport requires intense training and a year-round commitment, as each week is filled with team practices, physical therapy appointments and personal training sessions. She has battled through her fair share of injuries, but to have the chance to compete on some of the world’s biggest stages, she doesn’t think twice about it.
“Competing is my favorite thing,” says Lee.
On top of her busy athletic schedule, Lee is a transfer student at OLu this fall, and her first few weeks as a Lancer have made her feel welcomed and encouraged. As an athlete who leans on prayer when she competes, she is grateful to be in a place where she already feels a strong sense of support.
“For me, it helps calm me down,” says Lee of prayer. “When I’m stressed out about competing, I’ll just pray…that he’ll give me strength to do well and be okay. It reassures me that God will be with me. I feel like I’m doing this for him. I want to make him proud.”
While she is unsure of what her immediate future in taekwondo holds, Lee is looking forward to competing at the collegiate level and hopes to represent her country one day as an Olympian, as the IOC is reviewing the possibility of adding her discipline to future Olympic Games. No matter the road, she is thankful not only for her coach, but also for her parents who have supported her in every step.
“I definitely could not be where I am today without them,” says Lee. “They motivate me to keep training hard and keep making myself better.”
To watch a compilation of her interview click HERE.