Spencer Lee Spreads Hawkeye Goodwill

by Emily Nelson

Spencer Lee has traveled to many countries throughout his storied wrestling career. But one country he recently visited carries special meaning.

The Hawkeye wrestling star credits Japan in part for how his parents, both judo athletes, met. His dad, Larry, who later became a U.S. judo national team coach, was training in Japan when the French national coach convinced him to come train in France. It was there that he met Lee’s mom, Cathy, an Olympic alternate in judo in 1992.

“I’ve always loved Japan. I love their culture,” Spencer Lee says. “And if it wasn’t for Japan, I maybe wouldn’t be here.”

Lee, who graduated in December 2021 with a BS in sport and recreation management and is now pursuing a master’s degree in the program while competing with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, traveled to Japan for vacation—not for training or competition.

But his reputation preceded him, and he was persuaded to get on the mat. Along the way, he had a chance to experience Japanese training methods and explain to his Japanese counterparts how they differ from those in the United States.


Photography courtesy of Spencer Lee and Yamanashi Gakuin University