Between his high school and college years, he won a championship at the highest level five times. Now former Cornell wrestling standout Travis Lee is in pursuit of his sixth... this time at the Olympics.
When asked about his future plans, wrestler Travis Lee, Cornell '05, responds, "2008 Olympics!" Now that the two-time national champion is past an injury plagued year, there is no reason not to take him at his word.
While at Cornell the 5-foot-5 Lee set every record but one. He has the most wins of any Cornell wrestler with a record of 143-13 (47-3 in dual meets). He was Cornell's first four-time first team All-American and was a four-time Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association champion, twice at 125 pounds and twice at 133 pounds. The EIWA also selected Lee most outstanding wrestler in 2004 and 2005 and awarded him the 2005 John Fletcher Memorial trophy as the wrestler who made the greatest contribution to his team.
Lee was Ivy League Rookie of the Year, which he followed up with three first-team All-Ivy selections. In each of his four seasons Lee had more than 33 wins. He also won two national titles, one in 2003 at 125 pounds, which he says is the most memorable moment of his college career, and one as a senior at 133 in 2005.
Shortly after winning that second championship, Lee suffered a hernia injury. Then, after wrestling well through the fall and winter of 2005, he was badly injured while placing fourth at the 2006 Dave Schultz Memorial Tournament in February. He told TheMat.com, the official website of USA wrestling, "I fractured my left elbow. I went in for a throw and landed in a funny position. It was an avulsion fracture, which is where a ligament or tendon pulls off a piece of the bone it's attached to. I was out for a long time, but I'm back pretty close to 100 percent now."
Lee is back with a vengeance, winning that same Dave Schultz tournament earlier this month. He is ranked third nationally in his weight class and is described by TheMat.com as a "slick, athletic" wrestler.
Lee graduated from Cornell in 2005 with a degree in biological and environmental engineering. He used the 2005-06 year to good purpose, injured or not, receiving his Masters in Engineering from Cornell in the spring.
During his formative years in Honolulu, Cornell wasn't a place Lee considered, even though his Uncle Clarence graduated from Yale. Travis won three high school state titles and was junior national champion, prompting the Cornell coaching staff to write him a letter his senior year.
In Lee's words, "So my mother, Lynette, and I sat down and made a tape of my high school matches and sent them to Cornell. I wasn't so sure of going, I thought ‘Wow, Cornell's an amazing school but so far away from home.'" He finally decided based on academic quality and coaching staff, especially assistant coach Steve Garland.
"I actually watched Steve wrestle on ESPN in the finals of the 125-pound weight class. So going to Cornell I knew I would have a great coach and workout partner, but to top it all off I was getting a priceless education."
While at Cornell, Lee had to work hard to succeed in his tough major while continuing to devote himself to wrestling. He describes it as, "an ongoing struggle. I needed to plan weeks in advance to finish all of my problem sets and assignments in order to travel for competition." He knew there were some parts of the college experience he missed, but he "had to realize that not that many people get the chance to win a national title in college."
As a senior he had a lighter course load and was even able to do some undergraduate research with a local company, Kionix, Inc.
Currently Lee remains based in Ithaca, where he is training for the U.S. Nationals this spring with the ultimate goal of wrestling in the Beijing Olympics. He also works out with and helps coach the Cornell wrestling team and coaches at the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club. In addition, he works at Kionix, "doing research with microfluidic devices for biological/immunological tests," he reports.
And what about that one Cornell record he doesn't hold? That's for winning percentage, held by Dave Auble '60 who had far fewer bouts for a record of 51-1, or a 98.1 winning percentage. Lee's winning percentage of 91.7 puts him second all-time at Cornell.
Like Lee, Auble was a two-time national champion while at Cornell. Auble went on to wrestle in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics where he placed fourth. This is a goal that Lee shares, except that he wants to bring home a medal.
Lee has a habit of meeting his goals, according to him, "I came to Cornell hoping to win a national championship and came away with two." And now his goal, as he told TheMat.com, "I want to be the best in the world."
— Suzanne Eschenbach