By: Zara Rawoof
How one former Olympian is making name for herself in the entertainment industry
It’s common for kids to blurt out a made-up job title if asked about their plans for the future; when you’re young, the world is your oyster. Movies and books introduce children to the countless careers they can choose from. Then reality sets in later in life and those fanatical dreams from elementary days are long forgotten, packed away with your old paper mache art projects. Peng Peng Lee brings back that childhood hope as she conquers several admirable careers at the age of 28.
Lee was a part of Canada’s qualifying Olympic gymnastics team in 2012, where she served as the team’s captain. She continued her gymnastics career at UCLA where she scored 10.0. She received several awards and medals for her skills. “I started gymnastics when I was around four years old, and it has been a huge part of my life. I was definitely defined as a gymnast ever since I was younger,” Lee said. “I would go on to compete for the Canadian national team. I qualified for team Canada to the Olympics. And unfortunately, I tore my ACL right before the Olympics, so I ended up going as Team Canada's Olympic team captain in 2012. And then after the Olympics, I competed for UCLA and won two national championships. It’s been amazing. Gymnastics was my whole life and my whole journey was to go to the Olympics.” Lee is extremely proud of her successful athletic career, and rightfully so. But that’s not all she’s done.
The former gymnast continued to show off her flexibility, dancing all across social media. It was in this new online community where she found her next career move. “I wanted to branch out and do something for myself. And so when I go on TikTok, I'm just going to have fun,” Lee said. “I'm going to post singing videos. Dancing, videos, transitions, pretty much whatever I want. And it was really cool to watch it grow as something different from gymnastics.”
Music was not an unfamiliar skill for Lee; she claimed it was her therapy as she rigorously trained in gymnastics. It wasn’t until after she graduated from UCLA when the influencer realized music could become the start of a new journey. “After I graduated from college, I was a little lost in the sense that I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to try entertainment. Along with gymnastics, entertainment has been another dream of mine. When I was younger, I would do acting or music lessons on the side just to keep my mind off of gymnastics,” Lee said. With a collective following of almost 4.4 million fans across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, she has been sharing her life with a wide array of viewers. Whether it’s OG gymnastics fans or new followers impressed with her transition and dance skills, has proven to be captivating.
She thanks her parents for allowing her creativity to flow as she grew up, leading her to become so self-assured before hitting 30. “My parents were the type of people who saw we had an interest in something and they put us in it. I think we had an interest in floor hockey for a second, and my mom actually signed us up for a floor hockey camp! We lasted a day,” Lee laughed. “My parents always put us in activities. Gymnastics and music were the ones that we really loved.”
While her records would never indicate it, Lee suffered career-changing injuries that affected her ability to participate in the thing she loved most. The step back allowed her to become captain of Team Canada, but it was still hard to see her goals altered from what she wanted for so long.
The forced break still did not prepare Lee for what her life would feel like after gymnastics; once she graduated, integrating into a more relaxed lifestyle was extremely difficult. “It was a very, very difficult transition after graduating. My whole life was defined as gymnastics. I was training 25 hours a week ever since I was 10 years old. I was so used to being busy.” Lee said. “I felt anxious that I wasn’t doing enough, and it was a huge mental challenge. Also going from being on a team to now being an individual was very difficult as well.” Luckily, Lee was able to harness that energy and put it into her dreams as an entertainer.
Lee is an inspiration to all of us with seemingly impossible goals. Since the beginning of time, society has led us to believe that every person has only one true calling in life. This logic has continued through generations and few have questioned the notion. Lee, however, has broken down those barriers as an Asian American woman, showing that life doesn’t have to be designated to a single desire. It isn’t just her impressive gymnastics career or her captivating online persona; it’s the fact that the young influencer has worked so hard to pursue her dream and has excelled in all she does. Putting the Olympics behind her, she’s now branching out as an actor and singer, with new music projects on their way to public release.
No task is too daunting for Lee, making the title of influencer so fitting for what she represents. For those kids who can’t decide whether they want to be a ballerina, chef, or scientist, Peng Peng Lee shows that you can have it all.
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