During his early years at Webb School of Knoxville, Ryan Lee played football and basketball for the Spartans.
But four years ago, this young Farragut resident responded to a television advertisement on WBIR-TV that would forever change his athletic career.
“As a freshman, I played football and we won a state championship and I played basketball as a freshman, sophomore and junior for coach Ricky Norris. And then I saw an ad for a Learn to Row Day on WBIR,” said Lee, a 2017 Webb graduate who is headed to New York City and Columbia University. “And I wanted to learn to row.”
Originally taking up rowing in order to keep himself in basketball shape, Lee said, “I wanted to continue to try to play basketball my senior year, but with the commitment I had to make to rowing, it just wasn’t going to work.”
Lee, who stands 6-foot-4 and tips the scale at 195 pounds, has excelled in different rowing events well beyond the local level.
“I’m a pretty big guy,” he said. “And the thing that appeals to me about rowing is that it asks so little of you, yet it demands that you do so much,” said Lee, who competed in pairs [two men, one oar each] at the United States Rowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Florida Friday through Sunday, June 9-11.
He and partner David Dunn [a recent Oak Ridge High School graduate who will row at Stanford] finished fourth in the B-Finals]. The duo qualified for nationals after winning a silver medal in Southeast Youth Championships in Gainesville, Georgia.
Looking back on his rowing
career that started with Atomic Rowing Club in the Oak Ridge Rowing Association, “This all started for me four years ago,” he said. “... We have great coaches and we have some of the best equipment.”
Lee anticipates a return to eight-man competition, his favorite, when he heads to the Big Apple and the college rowing world.
“In the pairs, it found out that I was able to change things up,” he said. “I prefer to race on an eight-man crew, but in high school you have to compete where you can and you have to do what is needed. It’s a different classification and I started doing it this summer.
“It’s a great sport and it demands that you use a lot of muscles and it requires a lot of work,” Lee added. “I love the sport. It requires that you work out six hours a day.
“But you’re almost always outside.”
Rowing was once new to Lee but thanks to some hard work over the past four years, it has not only become a passion, and it’s earned him a chance to compete at an Ivy League School. He chose to compete for the Lions. He also had offers from Cornell and Pennsylvania.
“It’s a steep learning curve and eventually, with hard work, things start to fall in place for you and things start to go your way when that happens,” he said. “It’s almost addictive.”
Lee said that he considered himself fortunate to compete for the Oak Ridge Rowing Association.