January 9th, 2020 10:00 AM
OPRF student Vincent Lee scales the wall during one of his competitions (Photo provided by Jerry Steele).
By James Kay
Vincent Lee was 7 when he first gazed at the top of the climbing wall at FFC. At that point, youth sports programs he participated in couldn't compete with the challenge of reaching the ceiling at the gym that day in 2009.
Since that day, Lee has worked to become one of the best youth climbers in the country and has traveled around the world competing against the best of the best. Thanks to all the work he's put in the last 10 years, he has a shot at going to the 2024 Olympics.
"The opportunities I have gotten are incredible, and I am so blessed to have gone to all these amazing places," said Lee. "I've had the chance to expand my worldview, which is something I feel is going to help me later."
Since 2015, Lee has participated in multiple Youth Sport National Championships and has nine top-8 finishes at those events. At the 2019 Pan American Youth Championships in Ibarra, Ecuador, Lee claimed a silver and bronze medal in the combined and speed disciplines. The year before, Lee placed eighth in the speed discipline in the 2018 IFSC Youth World Championship in Moscow, Russia.
With all that success, Lee's coach, Hisham Saleh, believes he could be one of the two male climber representatives at the 2024 Olympics.
"If [Lee] continues to train the way he is right now, he is absolutely in the running for the 2024 Olympics," said Saleh. "From a physical standpoint, Vin will be the perfect shape for climbing. Usually 21-22 [years old] is the absolute peak for speed and bouldering so if he wants to pursue [the 2024 Olympics] he can do it."
However, Lee hasn't yet committed to that path.
"I definitely think it would be amazing to compete at that level," said Lee. "I am obviously thinking about it, but I don't know what the future holds."
Considering his hectic day-to-day schedule, it makes sense that he's holding off on cementing his 2024 plans. Most days, after he attends school, Lee goes home to have what his mom calls, "first dinner" before going to train for 2-5 hours. He then races home to have a second dinner, does his homework (he's an honors student), goes to sleep and starts the process all over again the next day.
"It's a lot to handle for someone his age," said Lee's mother Jerry Steele. "The thing he has had to learn since middle school is modulation. You can't have all burners on high which is hard for him because he is about excellence."
While trying to find normalcy is difficult with the workload from school and competing at competitions year-round, climbing has been Lee's calling since his early days at FFC. What is next for him is still unknown now that he has achieved his initial goals of competing internationally.
"I wanted to be the best climber I could be and to end up on an international stage," said Lee. "I have accomplished that. I know I can't do this forever, but I think I am going to try and climb outside more. But anything can happen."
He has time to decide on the Olympics even with the college application process looming for him in a year. According to Lee, there are only a few places that have a 15-meter speed wall, which is necessary for any climber who is serious about trying to qualify for the Olympics.
Because he has excelled academically (he speaks fluent Spanish and won the 2019 Sophomore Emerging Scholar in English Award), Lee's future seems unlimited. For now, though, he is taking his journey day by day.
"I feel like my story is just starting," he said. "Throughout my career, I've been growing and lately I've started to feel like I've made exponential growth. I am better than I have ever been before and I think that could propel me to new heights."