Most people are content with perfection. Yet after a spectacular 36-0 match record last season, and the 125-pound national championship title, junior Travis Lee isn’t satisfied. This year, the confident Hawaiian is hungry for more.
“I think I’m going to do it again,” he said, “but, like last year, I have to keep training hard, get my workouts in, and take it one match at a time.”
Lee has had that philosophy since he arrived on the Hill as a freshman –so far, it has paid off. In his debut season with the Red, he made second-team All-Ivy, Rookie of the Year honors in both the Ivy League and Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA), and All-America recognition by placing seventh in the NCAA tournament.
In spite of the accomplishments, Lee hardly took a break after NCAAs last March before resuming a grueling workout schedule. He hit the weights harder and stayed on the mat longer. He studied more films and drilled his technique to perfection.
“It’s hard to put into words what the training is like, but it’s just a lot of hard work. I have to find time for school, practice, weights, and weekends,” he said. “Basically, I feel that if I work the hardest, I have no excuse to lose.”
In addition to practicing at Cornell, Lee also puts in time at the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado. For the past three years, he has gone there to train with some of the best wrestlers in the world. The competition pushes him past anything he can find in Ithaca.
“The people there are so focused on what they do that you get more out of the training,” he said. “The level of work is different, and I feel good when I leave a practice because I can say to myself, ‘I know this move because I just did it 50 times.'”
A gold medal at NCAAs last March validated his investment in the sport. After storming through the regular season undefeated, Lee entered last season’s NCAA championships as a contender for the national title but not the favorite. That distinction belonged to Purdue’s Chris Fleeger. Not for long.
Lee passed unscathed through his first five matches but had to face Fleeger in the finals. For three periods, the two battled for control but, late in the match, Lee hit a deep ankle pick and took Fleeger to the mat. The Boilermaker tried to escape, but Lee held on for the win and ended his year at a perfect 34-0.
“It was awesome,” Lee said of the victory. “It was what I’d worked for all season.”
In spite of his national title, Lee enters this season holding the No. 2 spot in national polls. He decided to go up a weight class this year and will wrestle at 133 pounds rather than his familiar 125-pound weight class. The move means he will face bigger, stronger competitors in regular matches and a two-time defending national champion at NCAAs.
“Johnny Thompson of Oklahoma State is currently the No. 1 guy,” said Lee. “He’ll be tough, but I think I can prepare for him and beat him.”
That match won’t come until March, though, and a showdown with Thompson is the last thing on Lee’s mind as he prepares for the team’s season-opening tournament on Saturday.
“I have a lot of goals in wrestling. I want to win the national championship and maybe a gold medal in the Olympics someday,” he concluded. “But everyone in college wrestles at such a high level that you have to take them all seriously. That’s why I’m concentrating on just this year one match at a time right now.”