Both Carson and Hunter Lee are well-travelled wrestlers with world championship and Olympic ambitions, but when they get the chance, they go back to where it all started – wrestling each other in the front yard.
Hunter, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Saskatchewan, and Carson, a 17-year-old high school senior at Hapnot Collegiate, each have a long list of provincial, national and international medals, honours and trophies, with more likely to come as the athletes hit their prime.
The brothers will head to Calgary June 30 for their next major tournament, the Canada Cup. Hunter took part in the event last year, finishing with a bronze medal in the 86-kilogram category.
The timing of the event will mean a whirlwind two weeks for Carson. The athlete is set to graduate from Hapnot Collegiate, participate in graduation ceremonies June 27, then head west to Calgary not long after, days before his 18th birthday on July 8.
Both Lees hope to qualify for and compete in this year’s United World Wrestling (UWW) Junior World Championship in Tallinn, Estonia this August. Before taking the mat there, the brothers will have a chance to take part in training camps in multiple countries, including at American colleges, the U.S. Olympic Training Centre in Colorado and in Europe. The selection has been so diverse that it’s been hard to single out individual training sessions.
“We actually have quite a few options for our pre-Worlds training camp right now. We’ve got some connections down in the States. One of our teammates just went to Cornell to train down there for a little bit. I’ve got a friend who lives down by Penn State. He said he could get us in to train there,” said Hunter.
“We’ve been to the Olympic Training Centre and we’ve been to Michigan. Those are all good places to go train. Our coach also wants us to get over to Europe to train so we can get a feel for that. We can be anywhere basically in our pre-Worlds training camps, we’re just not sure yet.”
Each session focuses on different techniques and fundamentals, Hunter said, emphasizing that certain styles may be benefit him more at Worlds later this year.
“Everywhere has a different feel, but there’s a big difference between American wrestling and European wrestling. That’s why he wanted us to get over to Europe to do a training camp before worlds because that’s where the majority of the guys are going to be that we’re going to see at Worlds,” he said. “It’s just different styles of wrestling you see. Americans are more like a grinding style, just hard work, and the Europeans are more loose and smooth with their wrestling.”
All that travel means big expenses for the Lees and their family. Whenever possible, the Lees hold fundraisers to help cover the costs of international competition and training. Last week, the family held a barbecue fundraiser. The brothers’ mother, Cindi, has created a Gofundme page for the family to help cover expenses.
In the meantime, the athletes’ training sessions are decidedly less alluring than camps in far-flung countries. In the summer months, the wrestlers use whatever facilities in Flin Flon they can, sometimes heading to a school gym to spar with each other.
When the school isn’t available, the Lees take matters into their own hands, putting down a mat at their family home and literally wrestling in the front yard.
“We’re doing the same exact thing we did that got us here. If it keeps working, then why change it?” he said. “The last time I was here, we’d wrestle in the front yard for technique in the morning, then we’d do an on-mat session in the afternoon at the school.”
Carson added that the pair currently have access to mats and are able to train at school. The mats at home will return to the yard this summer.
The brothers will be working closely together once again next wrestling season. Carson has committed to the Saskatchewan Huskies wrestling program. Both Carson and Hunter have trained heavily with the Huskies’ junior program, each working with the group since junior high.
Before heading back to school, the world championships must be dealt with. The brothers differ in their approach to major international matches. Carson tends to watch film and scout his opponents whenever a new draw is announced, while Hunter consults more with his coach on strategy on upcoming adversaries.
Often, prior planning sometimes goes to pot once a wrestler steps on the mat and instinct takes over, making the lessons learned from training – both far away and in the backyard – even more important.
“It happens so fast. With new wrestlers, when they get off the mat sometimes, they’ll go, ‘I don’t know what happened. I don’t remember anything that just happened.’ You’ve got to rely on your instincts and hope that your training kicks in while you’re wrestling, because otherwise you won’t have time to think while you’re doing it,” Hunter said.
“In a match, it almost comes down to pure instincts. You just kind of turn your mind off and go to work and get in the match,” he said.