Coming to UCLA, I remember someone telling me that I would learn so much about myself after going through the gymnastics program.
I thought as a 19-year-old, I already knew everything there was to know – but I was proven wrong.
As a freshman, I didn’t know where I completely belonged.
I was an injured athlete coming into the UCLA gymnastics team, and I entered school as an international student. I was lost as to what my role as a student-athlete entailed. I barely knew my teammates and I was afraid to use my voice when it came to being a leader on the team.
It was clear to say that there was so much more to learn while being here at UCLA.
My six years at UCLA has been a wild rollercoaster. I went through two ACL surgeries, a UCL thumb surgery and a meniscus surgery. There were many difficult times when it came to making friends, as well as conquering my weaknesses of not speaking up and feeling judged.
Despite all the injuries and hurdles throughout the years, there was one thing that always helped me learn and grow as an individual – my Bruin family.
Coming from a different country, I really didn’t know what to expect. But it was obvious to me the very first day I stepped foot onto campus that I was brought to UCLA for something greater than just athletics.
Over time I saw many athletes come and go. However, the same question kept recurring no matter who was graduating: “What do you want your legacy to be after you leave UCLA?”
This question stuck with me ever since my freshman year and had me thinking about what I wanted to accomplish before it was my time to graduate.
Since I did not compete my freshman and sophomore years, I learned a lot about what it meant to be a true team player. I initially thought my advice and opinions didn’t matter because I was not a competitor. But as the days went on, it became clear to me that every single person on the team was a piece of the puzzle to create a championship team.
I wanted to be the best supporter and teammate as possible to set us up to have the best shot at an NCAA championship title. I wanted to be able to inspire and lead the team by example, hoping that it would help them be at their best.
I approached rehab with a positive attitude and celebrated the little steps to getting 1 percent better each day with my teammates.
Each day I found myself growing into a leadership position, and I embraced that role with honor and pride.
I looked back at my entire collegiate career and realized what my legacy was: I wanted to be respected and to inspire others no matter who they were or where they were from.
To graduate with two 10s, an individual balance beam title and an NCAA championship is an amazing accomplishment. However, I am even more appreciative of who I was able to do that with.
Seeing my teammates cry after I got a 10, not knowing if we had won the championship, was something that I will cherish forever. I hope that I have inspired my teammates to continue the legacy of being kind and open to one another and to embrace living in the moment.
I feel honored that I was recruited to one of the top schools in the country, and without my Bruin family, I would not be where I am today.
I am so appreciative of the people I was able to meet and surround myself with. I have created a new home with my Bruin family and could not be more thankful for all the love and support I received throughout my journey here.
Peng-Peng Lee competed for UCLA gymnastics from 2013-2018.