Jen Lee was on his game, and no one was going to beat him.
The goalie for the United States National Sled Hockey Team played flawlessly during the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, not allowing a goal in four games as his team brought home an unprecedented fourth straight gold medal.
Lee’s performance on the biggest stage in March was a key reason he was named the USA Hockey Disabled Athlete of the Year.
The San Francisco resident is humbled to receive the award, which will be presented June 10 at the President’s Awards Dinner in Denver.
“I know a few of my teammates in the past, Steve Cash and Declan Farmer and others, have won this award and went on and won others as well,” Lee said. “I just never thought I would be considered in that category as well, so it was definitely one of those in awe moments and it just felt great. It’s definitely an honor for sure.”
The 35-year-old has amassed quite a resume on the ice for the U.S. In his 10 seasons, Lee has won three Paralympic gold medals and three world championships. In his 35 games, Lee has logged 14 shutouts.
Lee has followed in the footsteps of Cash, the legendary goalie who retired in October after a 16-year career in which he medaled in four Paralympics (three golds) and eight world championships (five golds).
Backing up Cash for nine seasons, Lee learned from the best and has received sound advice along the way from his good friend.
“It was really good to watch Steve the last almost I would say 10 seasons to really learn a lot from him and not only that to compete at that level and everything else, so I’m just happy that I’ve been able to help my team to win another gold medal,” Lee said.
Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Lee emigrated to the United States as an 8-year-old.
He grew up playing different sports, competing in basketball and track and field in high school. Hockey was always kind of an afterthought, however, since the sport was still in its infancy in California.
After high school graduation in 2004, Lee enlisted in the Army. He completed a combat tour in Iraq in 2006-07.
On March 21, 2009, while stationed in Savannah, Georgia, Lee, a sergeant at the time, went on a motorcycle ride with four Army buddies. While on a highway in Jacksonville, Florida, Lee was clipped by a car and ejected from his motorcycle.
In a split second, Lee’s life changed forever. He was now an above the knee amputee with his left leg. Lee was transferred to the Center for the Intrepid, a medical rehabilitation facility for military service members, in San Antonio.
The facility offered adaptive sports for the patients and sled hockey was one of the options.
“Sled hockey was just really one of the many therapeutic sports that was available along with the Paralympic military programs where they were trying to really push at that time in 2009, 2010,” Lee said. “It was really a big surge of getting military members into Paralympic sports or on the team in general. It really just kind of took off from then.”
Lee started playing sled hockey in October 2009, and he fell in love with the sport that fulfilled his competitive juices.
“I had no idea that less than seven, eight months later, I would go try out for the National Team for the first time and actually make it,” Lee said. “I then kind of took that and excelled that in my career and then went from there.”
Becoming an amputee has pushed Lee along the way. He was also able to gain perspective while recovering from his injury that he hasn’t forgotten.
“The motorcycle accident and being amputated and my left leg was pretty tough, pretty terrible, but some of these guys went through explosions and fire and severe burns, so they still come back and have a smile on their face or they still try to go back into their unit to kick down doors and to continue to fight,” he said. “So, it really gave me excuses to stop feeling sorry for myself and I really just wanted to prove my worth.”
Lee now lives in San Antonio and loves it. He tries to get back to Taiwan as much as possible. In mid-May, Lee went back to his home country to spend time with his dad and assist him with his medical needs.
Lee will be back in the United States in time for national team tryouts in July to make a run at the 2026 Paralympic Games in Milano Cortina.
He doesn’t have any plans to hang up his skates anytime soon.
“Goaltender is a position you can definitely play a little bit longer than the forwards and defensive men, but I think for me, I can’t count myself out as far as ‘Do I have another Paralympic Games in me?’ Another four years, I sure as well do,” Lee said.
Lee knows he wouldn’t be in the position he is today without all the help he has received since his injury 13 years ago.
“This is definitely not a one-man show — it takes a village,” Lee said. “From everyone, not only my teammates, but everyone that’s been there from Day 1, from my physical therapist to the doctors to the organizations that have people who truly want to help military service members.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.