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Vanessa Lee takes aim

One day, back in 2004, Vanessa Lee got rained out. What was supposed to be a day of sightseeing in South Korea turned into a dull afternoon parked in front of the TV.

And it changed everything.

“We were stuck inside watching the Athens Olympics, and the women’s gold medal match in archery happened to be on,” recalls Lee. “I just fell in love with the sport. A South Korean archer named Park Sung Hyun stood on the shooting line with so much confidence and composure that I just wanted to be like her. I stopped spending all the money my parents had given me for the trip and decided I was coming home and buying a bow.”
By 2010, she was on the Canada National Women’s Team and had already competed in the Pan American Championships and multiple World Cups. And when the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games kick off in Toronto on July 10, she’ll be at the line again.
“Competing at home on a stage like the Pan Am Games is not something a lot of athletes get to experience,” she says. “The opportunity to represent my country in front of my family and friends would be so special. It’s a great chance to show the people who have supported me all these years how they’ve helped me get to where I am now. It’s bringing something I love—archery and international competition—home. And, at the same time, it would be such a special opportunity to share my hometown with my friends from around the globe. I am so proud of Toronto and Canada. I’d want to personally give everyone a tour.”
Hard at work in the UK on her Masters in Physiotherapy, Lee splits her time between classes and training—cardio, strength training and lots of shooting. Although it makes for long days, she gets support from sponsors like CIBC and CIBC Team Next—a $2 million program that helps athletes achieve their goals, both in their careers and personal lives.
“Sponsorship means so much to athletes,” says Lee. “To use a cheesy archery analogy: Athletes are like the arrows ready to be flung into the world. Sponsorship is like the bow that draws us back and gives us the power to be launched. Without the bow, the arrows would be pretty to look at but wouldn’t have that ‘oomph’ behind them.
“It’s funny because I feel as though the support through CIBC Team Next is so much more than just sponsorship. They have gathered some of Canada’s most successful athletes to mentor us—like Simon Whitfield, Josh Cassidy and Benoit Huot. They’ve gone through the things I’m going through and are supporting me along my journey. I never expected to feel such support from my fellow CIBC Team Next athletes the way I do now. Coming from a primarily individual sport, I feel as though I finally have that team support—from athletes in all different disciplines, all across the country.”
So, what’s next after the Games this summer? “I try not to think too far into the future or else I stress myself out,” admits Lee. “I used to plan my life based on archery, telling myself that four years down the road is another Pan Am Games, or five years down the road is another Olympics.
“I’ve had to re-evaluate the reason why I’m competing in archery—and it’s simply because I love it. As long as I love the sport, I will continue to strive to achieve at the highest level possible. And, as of right now, it looks like I’ll be shooting until I’m 90 years old.”