The 2019-2020 swimming season comes with high expectations for Sean Lee, but even higher goals.
Like most, the junior from Los Angeles got his start in swimming by taking lessons. However, while most children were taking lessons to have fun with kids their age, Lee was taking lessons for more serious reasons.
“I started swimming [after] my mom took me to a beach when I was around seven years old,” Lee said. “I almost drowned from the tide; I got sucked in and she [said] ‘It’s not going to happen again.’ She pretty much threw me in swimming lessons and [I kept going].”
These lessons soon turned into a passion that Lee carried with him to Loyola High School. At Loyola, Lee was a three-time team MVP who was integral to the team’s undefeated 2016 CIF Championship season. After a decorated high school swimming career, Lee was set on where he wanted to swim next.
“For Penn, I just knew it was the best combination of academics and athletics for me," he said. “It was a no-brainer on my end."
Lee has been a contributor for the Quakers ever since he set foot on campus. During his freshman season, he was an Ivy League Championships qualifier. Last season, Lee built on this success by becoming the first Penn swimmer take home the title of Ivy League champion in the 400 free relay.
While most might be satisfied with an Ivy League Champion title, Sean Lee has much bigger goals in mind.
“[I am] definitely trying to make NCAA Championships this year; it’s always been a goal of mine,” Lee said. “I’m just trying to do whatever is possible to make that dream happen.”
So far this season, Lee is taking steps toward his goal of a spot at the NCAA Championships. In the Quakers’ recent dual meet against Brown, Lee placed first in the 100 fly with a time of 48.82 seconds while also recording a 20.46 time in the 50 free.
While Lee’s success in the pool has been exciting for the Red and Blue, coach Mike Schnur believes Lee’s potential might be greatest out of the water.
“He’ll get faster in the water just because he’s getting bigger and stronger. But as a leader, he’s never really had to be that,” Schnur said. “Sean has never had to fill that role. Now, he’s a junior captain, [and] it’s going to be exciting to see how he handles that role.”
Lee knows that his competitive nature and passion for swimming will be critical in his new role as captain for a Quakers team that lost NCAA first-team All-American Mark Andrew.
“[Mark] leaving just kind of makes me and other captains to step up,” Lee said. “He left a huge void for our team, and we need to find a way to mitigate that void and move forward without him.”
Despite the loss of Andrew, Schnur is not worried about Lee replacing the efforts of the graduated Penn swimming star.
“You can’t replace Mark. Sean is just going to be himself, and lead by example every day and work hard and win his races,” Schnur said. “He races. He competes. Whether it’s in practice or at the end of practice, Sean will give you a 100% every time he races. He really enjoys that competition. It is a good example for the other guys.”
If his prior record is any indication, being his own swimmer will be a viable strategy for Lee as he looks to step up for the Red and Blue this season.