New club, new coaches, same goal
around the gym doing my back exercises and getting to know the athletes. It was funny because I
wasn’t allowed to run or jump, but I still felt a part
of the club.
By John Crumlish
ALTHOUGH Canada’s Christine (Peng-Peng) Lee is only 17, she has already experienced a comeback. A native of Scarborough, Ontario, Lee
enjoyed a successful junior career during which
she simultaneously competed well in senior competitions such as the 2007 Pan American Games
(fifth all-around) and the 2008 Canadian championships (third all-around, and first on beam and
floor). She then lost longtime Sport Seneca coach
Carol-Angela Orchard, who moved to England,
and suffered a career-threatening back injury.
In December 2010 Lee made a triumphant—if
unexpected—return to top-level competition when
she won the Elite Canada meet. Lee, who now
trains at Oakville Gymnastics Club, intends to
enroll at UCLA in 2012.
IG recently spoke with Lee, whose mother,
Marian, was born in Toronto, and father, Kin-Man, hails from Hong Kong.
change. Just thinking about where I wanted to be
motivated me to do my back exercises and be
What impact did losing Carol-Angela have on
your desire to do gymnastics at the top le vel
Having Carol-Angela gone was really hard
because it felt like a part of me had left. She is a
phenomenal coach and I was very lucky to have
her. She was a huge part of helping me be at the
level where I was. I felt that, although she was
gone, nothing is forever and that you will follow
your dream no matter what hurdle you face. I will
always use her coaching techniques, whether she
is here or in England, because her coaching will
help me get back to where I want to be again.
How much of a surprise was winning Elite
Canada to you, and how much of a surprise
do you think it was to the Canadian gymnastics community in general?
I was shocked, and am still shocked that I won.
There are so many great gymnasts now that I didn’t know where I stood anymore, especially with
so much time off. I had only started actually doing
gymnastics last June, so I didn’t know how well I
would do at any competition. I went into Elite
Canada to just compete and thought about a top-
10 finish, but never in my mind was I thinking
about winning! I think I surprised Canadian gymnastics because no one knew what I was doing in
training or even if I was doing full routines.
“I was shocked, and am
still shocked that I won
(Elite Canada). There
are so many great
We did not see much of you between the
summer of 2008 and Elite Canada 2010. What
was the nature of your injury, and what kind
of layoff did it mandate?
At the end of 2008 I started having back pains,
and my coach and I thought it was muscular. After
a training camp in February 2009, my back
became so intolerable that it hurt to bend over and
touch my toes along with bending backwards.
From there I saw a back specialist and was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis. In
other words, I had fractured one of the discs in my
back. The injury may have been caused by overuse of my back or I could have been born with it.
The doctor told me to take a year off,…
When and why did you start training at
I chose Oakville because I really wanted to work
with Kelly Manjak. I also loved their facility, and
decided that was a great gym to go to during my
rehabilitation. We talked to Kelly about coming to
Oakville in July (2009) and said that I would not
be allowed to start until March 2010. He said that
even though I wouldn’t be doing much, it would
be good for me to meet some of my new teammates and come in for a couple of hours to do my
back conditioning. In August 2010 I started going
to Oakville for about two hours a day, just floating
Many fans are most familiar with you as a junior gymnast. In what ways does your gymnastics differ now that you are a senior, especially after your time off?
As a senior, I don’t feel that I am at the same level
as I was before. I am just taking my time to get
things back still, and not rushing anything. I’m not
allowed to do certain skills anymore due to my
back, so some skills will have to be taken out of
my routines. I feel more
mature, being one of the
older girls and not this little
person entering a big world.
What gave you the motivation to return to
The long period of back pain before we knew
what was wrong was emotionally hard. I felt like
the situation kept elongating and preventing me
from training. I was getting really frustrated
because the pain was still there and months were
After the doctor had told me I might not be able
to do gymnastics, it was heartbreaking because it
just seemed like everything I have worked for
came to a halt. At one point I was about to give
up, but I tried to take one day at a time. During
my break I tried not to think about my back and
let it heal naturally. During the year, I had started
to miss the sport a lot and really wanted to go
back to it! I could just see myself flipping again!
That’s when I knew that, when all of this was
over, my long-goal dreams were becoming greater.
Although I wasn’t training, my aspirations didn’t
What are your plans for
representing Canada inter-
nationally in 2011 and
The world championships (in
Tokyo in October) is my goal
for this year. In the long run,
my dream of going to the
2012 Olympics is still where I
want to be. After everything
that happened, that aspiration
has not changed! IG
Lee with coaches (from
left) Lorne Bobkin (1988
Olympian), and Sue and
Kelly Manjak. Kelly
coached 2004 Olympic
floor exercise champion