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Farewell To The Queen, Peng-Peng Lee
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By Ashlee Buhler

Magical. That is the most fitting word that I can think of to describe the final moments of the 2018 NCAA Championships. When it comes to the career of Christine Peng-Peng Lee, it is impossible to imagine a more picture-perfect ending.

At one point her future in the sport seemed unlikely. As a standout on the Canadian national team for six years, a knee injury prevented her from reaching her dream of making the 2012 Olympic Team. Several months later she began her career at UCLA but was not able to compete since she was still recovering from ACL surgery. During her sophomore year she was forced to miss the season again when her knee rejected the tissue graft from her first surgery. She had to undergo a second ACL surgery. Nevertheless, the fight never stopped, and she officially began her competitive career at UCLA in 2015. She would quickly add herself to the list of NCAA greats, racking up perfect 10.0s and All-American honors like nobody’s business.

After being granted a sixth year of eligibility, which is almost unheard of in college gymnastics, Lee would bring her career to a close at the 2018 NCAA Championships. This competition also marked the final Super Six in the history of women’s collegiate gymnastics. (Next year only four teams will qualify to the finals.) The gym gods couldn’t have drawn up a more dramatic finish. To clinch UCLA its first national title in eight years, Lee needed a 9.975 on her final event, the balance beam. Essentially, anything less than perfection would give Oklahoma its third consecutive national title.

For the next 90 seconds, however, it felt like nothing else in the world mattered. It did not matter who won, it did not matter the score. It was just Lee and the beam, one last time. After all the adversity she had faced in her career, all I wanted was for her to have the routine of her life and go out with a bang.

With a smile from start to finish, she rocked her routine. It was perhaps one of the best routines she had ever done. When she nailed her dismount, sealed with peace signs and a kiss to the crowd, I knew the sport had just lost something special. Lee was truly a free spirit who radiated happiness and confidence with every move she made. She wasn’t afraid to do the skills nobody else was doing at the collegiate level, which made her one-of-a-kind.

The moment was exciting and bittersweet. Following a perfect 10.0 on bars, Lee ended her career with a 10.0 on beam to seal the deal for UCLA. If you want to leave your mark on the sport, that’s one way to do it.

Let me just say that I spent many years watching the NCAA Championships at home, hoping that someday I would have the opportunity to be there experiencing it live. I was fortunate enough to make the trip with some friends this year, and I must say that the atmosphere was everything I ever imagined and more. It was a privilege to be in the crowd witnessing the final routines of Lee’s career, and it was a joy to watch all the hard work pay off as she lifted her team to the NCAA title.

Cheers to Peng-Peng Lee, her drive, dedication and love for the sport of gymnastics. It will surely be missed!

Ashlee Buhler is a lifelong gymnastics fan who resides in Michigan. With her twin sister, she spent many years running a gymnastics blog called Triple Twist Gym Blog. She is currently a college student who dreams of promoting the sport of gymnastics as a journalist.

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