Jen Lee looks on during an exhibition game against Team Canada on Oct. 29, 2021 in St. Louis.
BEIJING – With his 6-foot-2 frame, you can easily look up and spot Jen Lee’s discernable grin from across the hockey rink at the National Indoor Stadium in the Chinese capital.
Behind that smile lies years of resiliency that has brought him to this point.
The 35-year-old from San Francisco, who will be the U.S. sled hockey team’s new starting goaltender at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, immigrated to the U.S. with his parents and two sisters when he was 8. His uncle wanted the children to have more American sounding names, so he dubbed Lee as Horitius.
Motivated by the Sept. 11 attacks, Lee enlisted in the U.S. Army, first working as an aircraft mechanic and then being deployed to Iraq. In 2009, prior to plans for a three-year tour of duty, his life changed after having to have his left leg amputated above the knee because of a motorcycle accident.
That ultimately led him to sled hockey. He was introduced to the sport during his rehabilitation with Operation Comfort, an organization dedicated to assisting injured U.S. service personnel at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
“It gave me a flashback to the fact that I used to play and watch ‘The Mighty Ducks,’” Lee said.
Lee tried inline roller blading as a fifth grader but said he was no good. He decided to try goaltending and see how that went.
Lee worked his way to the top, cracking the U.S. national sled hockey team roster as the backup goaltender for the 2010-11 season. In 14 games during that Paralympic cycle, he allowed just four goals on 36 chances and saw four minutes of ice time at the Sochi Games.
But after his meteoric rise on the ice, he hit a personal low off it. Lee lost his mother to a brain tumor a few months after Sochi. Struggling with how to cope, he listened to his late mother’s advice. She had always wanted him to pursue a higher education, so he took two years off from the national team to enroll at the University of Texas, where he would ultimately earn his degree in sport and fitness administration/management.
The pain and anger he felt was still substantial, though. On top of his mother's passing, it was the build-up of emotions that comes with immigrating to a new country and being teased as an ESL student, as well as losing a limb, that subsisted.