Falling into Freestyle: Jacob Lee's Skiing Story

We most often associate skiing with the joys of winter, speeding down valleys, feeling the rush of snow beneath our skis, and admiring the clear, bright blue sky.

We most often associate skiing with the joys of winter, speeding down valleys, feeling the rush of snow beneath our skis, and admiring the clear, bright blue sky. While skiing may be a widely practiced leisure activity enjoyed by people from all over the world, it has a lively competitive side. With more than ten existing types of skiing competitions and its permanent presence in the Winter Olympic Games since 1924, there is little doubt that skiing-in one form or another-is one of the most popular sports in the world. Generally, competitive skiing can be divided into two main disciplines: racing and freestyle skiing. While the two differ in style of competition, both require speed, agility, precision, strength, endurance, and moves that seemingly defy gravity. Alpine skiing, a part of the former competitive discipline, is consistently among the most-watched Olympic events for winter sports enthusiasts and is where Jacob Lee's '22 professional skiing career began.

Lee's early foray into skiing was not surprising: His mother was an "avid skier" and, at the age of six, he was already on the slopes "every winter with friends and family." Shortly after Lee put on his first pair of skis, he began taking lessons at YongPyong Ski Resort, the largest facility in South Korea and home to the official alpine skiing events at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. However, Lee's skiing career would take an unexpected turn, after "accidentally [coming] across freestyle skiing," the latter discipline of the aforementioned forms of competitive skiing. Freestyle skiing is the younger, more energetic, and extravagant brother of alpine skiing; unlike alpine skiing, the events are judged by the artistic and creative components of the performance. When Lee came across a freestyle competition called the X Games, he knew immediately that he wanted to pursue a career down this path.

With years of experience and training, it's no surprise that Lee's accomplishments are beyond those of normal athletes. Besides his induction to the South Korean national team, his proudest achievement thus far has been ranking second in Korea for the halfpipe category for his age group. He still vividly remembers the exciting moment in which he achieved the feat, as many of the competitors within the age group were older than he was at the time. Lee also stated that his most memorable skiing experience came during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics test event, which also happened to be his most embarrassing skiing competition yet. The test event was an important point-based contest where skiers from all over the globe came together to earn the FIS (Federation of International Skiing) points. Lee was invited to compete in this special event and was also one of the first skiers to ski in the halfpipe used in the 2018 Olympics. For Lee, the performance was "embarrassing because [he] fell twice in one of the runs-and once [during] the easiest trick." However, he was not disappointed to place 17th among 20 world-class competitors in his category.

Another memorable experience for Lee was when he and two other Junior National Team members were interviewed by VISA; they were asked to "introduce Korea to international skiers and sports fans" with the 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics right around the corner. It was a "special experience for [him] as it was [his] first time being professionally filmed by a foreign [company]."

Despite his dedication and achievements in the sport, Lee eventually decided to end his professional career, although he still maintains an unwavering love for both alpine and freestyle skiing. Nevertheless, his childhood was racked with multiple accomplishments. While he confesses that he occasionally suffered from injuries, as the nature of freestyle competitions require aerobic manoeuvers and places the human body at vulnerability, the "sensation of gliding through the air" was one of his greatest motivations to continue pursuing his goals prior to quitting. Moreover, his rigorous weekly training schedule truly demonstrated his passion and commitment to the sport, which included waking up at 6 AM, skiing for an average of 10 hours per week, and completing external training such as trampoline sessions for developing specific freestyle skills. However, at the end of the day, his biggest obstacle was trying to balance skiing and school. The regimented schedule made it "nearly impossible for [him] to focus on [his] school work" and keep up on academics. By 8th grade, Lee came to realize that if he chose to continue his professional skiing life, he would not be able to attend enough school to complete his academic year. This was his primary motivation for deciding to move to Denver, Colorado. While Lee never questioned his love for skiing, he was often conflicted as to whether it was the right future for him. He explains, "I grew up being fairly good at most things, including studying, and our family wasn't sure if skiing was the right path for my future." After long consideration, Lee decided to pursue education over athletics for a safer future path in the long run. Skiing still remains a passionate hobby for Lee and he states that he would love "to become involved with the Korean Skiing Association in the future," but his professional life as a skier was no longer a pursuit when he applied to Lawrenceville.

Nevertheless, his dedication to becoming a professional skier was both physically and mentally demanding on "so many levels." Before making a firm decision to fully commit to the sport-or any competitive sport for that matter-Lee says that it is important to consider how you want to shape your future paths. For Lee, he believes that choosing to turn down a future as a professional skier for the sake of his education was the right decision to make.


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