Stephany Lee, left.
Stephany Lee: Tough Talk From The Mat

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com June 27 2012 6:25 PM ET

EDITOR'S NOTE: The U.S. Olympic Committee recently announced that Stephany Lee was dismissed from the U.S. wrestling team after testing positive for marijuana. Below is the article that went to print in the August issue, completed shortly after Lee qualified for the team in April.

 

Just know that when you step onto a wrestling mat with Stephany Lee, it’s her mat. The plan is to beat you senseless and make you look incompetent at wrestling. That plan earned the grappler a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

“I get a kick out of beating people and not getting busted for it,” Lee says. Her objective isn’t always winning, even though she’s nationally ranked second in her weight class. Lee, 27, just wants to kick her opponent’s ass.

After unsuccessful attempts to make the Olympic team in 2004 and 2008, Lee is the first to say how little she cares about bowing to the kind of pressure familiar to world-class athletes.

“If I made this team or I didn’t make this team, I was still going to marry my wife, Brigg,” she says. “Life still goes on. And it doesn’t end just because you didn’t make the team. So that’s how I got over [the pressure].”

Lee’s childhood mastery of judo propelled her into wrestling, with encouragement of a high school coach. She was lucky enough to grow up in Hawaii, where many schools offer female-only wrestling leagues. Those who broke through the glass ceiling of competitive wrestling, however, had to train and grapple with the boys while also dealing with discrimination from the sidelines.

“I never knew what it would be like to go into a practice room and everyone be pissed at you just for being a girl, you know?” she says of the atmosphere in wrestling. There are still some men, though, whom Lee describes as “washouts [who] didn’t make the Olympic team” or old chauvinists who like to express their problems with female wrestlers. “It’s typically the people who didn’t achieve anything who want to hate on you.”

Days after she and her former Missouri Valley College classmate Clarissa Chun won spots on Team USA in April, Lee married her girlfriend of five years, Brigg McDonald, in a ceremony in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After the games, Lee says, she’ll be ready to focus on the rest of her life.  

“I love wrestling, but my body’s tired,” Lee says. After London, Lee may have a baby, become a coach, go to business school, or enter the world of mixed martial arts. Whichever road she chooses, she’ll probably kick its butt.

The women’s wrestling competition begins August 8. Go to London2012.com for more information.