At the 2018 NCAA tournament, Iowa's true freshman Spencer Lee worked his way through the 125-pound bracket, defeating, and pinning, a former national champion on the way to claiming his first NCAA title. His rise earned him the "Hammer Award," an honor given every year by the Amateur Wrestling News to the wrestler who wins the most competitive weight class, but his performance off the mat also earned him an important accolade. Lee received Iowa's Big Ten sportsmanship award for his humble attitude and respect for his opponents. Now facing higher expectations and aiming to win another title, Lee talks openly about his experience at nationals, his approach to the sport and his goals for future success.
Here's everything you need to know about Lee's wrestling mindset, in his own words.
What it felt like to win a national title:
Iowa 125 pound national champion Spencer Lee was recognized by the Iowa Legislature today in Des Moines pic.twitter.com/Pc2bI5qkTw— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) April 11, 2018
It was an awesome feeling being able to represent Iowa to the best of my ability, to win with my teammates and family. It was just a lot of excitement and emotions going on. It was a blast competing with my teammates and getting it done. That was the goal, but I have teammates that have goals, too.
How he stayed calm as a freshman wrestling in the NCAA championships:
I would attribute that to my teammates, my coaches, my family. My dad was an awesome mentor, he kept me calm, not letting anything get to me. I’ve competed on big stages before, but them believing in me and believing in what I want to achieve, sometimes when you don’t believe in yourself, they uplift you. I would attribute all of it to them.
How he chose the Pokémon theme song for his walkout music before the finals:
If anyone hasn’t seen me running out to the Pokémon theme song here it is https://t.co/X38vmFEMo4— Spencer Lee (@LeeSpencerlee36) March 19, 2018
I probably knew that in October, but I wasn’t the one that picked it. Sam Brooks, All-American, he was going with me, saying, "You've got to run out to the song."
"I want to be the very best," it’s perfect. Well, everyone knows that I was a big fan; I play competitive Pokémon. I’m a nerd. When I made the finals, I told them the walkout song I had in Carver [Hawkeye Arena], “We Will Rock You,” but then I changed it to the Pokémon theme song.
What sportsmanship, and winning Iowa’s Big-10 sportsmanship award, means to him:
I would define sportsmanship as totally respecting your opponents off the mat and on the mat. On the mat, be as tough and mean as you can, that the sport, everyone wants to win, and we are all striving to be our very best. Off the mat, me and [Ohio State’s Nathan] Tomasello have known each other since I was in sixth or seventh grade, he was always kind, I had respect for him, same with [Rutgers’s Nick] Suriano. We have mutual respect. Everything I said was completely genuine.
How he tracks his goals:
Spencer Lee “The Hammer” pic.twitter.com/vpUaQBIeaF— Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling (@Hawks_Wrestling) April 7, 2018
I wrote all my goals down when I was 9. I wrote every goal I ever wanted to achieve when I was 9, and I still have that piece of paper.