Peng Peng Lee kicked off her gymnastics career in 2004 at just 11 years old. She went on to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and, despite having to pull out due to an ACL injury, she served as an acting captain for the team. Then, for six years, the Chinese-Canadian athlete competed as a UCLA gymnast. During her time, she was awarded the Honda Sports Award, NCAA Balance Beam Champion, Co-Pac-12 Conference Woman of the Year and Gymnastics Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
When Peng’s life pivoted away from gymnastics, she took the opportunity to put all her energy into passions she couldn’t pursue as an athlete. Chief among them: content creation. Her mass recognition landed her partnerships with Third Love, Conair, FabFitFun, Casetify, Romwe, Levis, Chevrolet and Alicia Keys’ Keys Soulcare. Most importantly, Peng has gained a loyal 5-million following on TikTok.
As 2023 wraps up, Peng caught up with Modern Luxury to look back on her career path and reflect on her love for her “penguin family.”
What is something you learned from gymnastics that is still part of your day-to-day life?
I never realized how much I had learned from gymnastics until I graduated. I have learned many life lessons from the sport, but I recognize a couple the most. One of the biggest things I have taken with me from gymnastics into my day-to-day life is my work ethic. I’ve learned to continue to work hard so that when opportunity meets a little bit of luck, I’m always prepared to show up and give 110% effort. Another essential lesson I have taken with me is to be proud of the little steps along my journey. A lot of the time learning new things or improving my craft can be extremely frustrating, but I remind myself that every time I do something, I’m either getting 1% better or I depict what I am proud of myself on that day so that there is always a positive outlook.
We’d love to hear more about transitioning your career from gymnastics to content creation. Was this an intentional move or did your pivot to the digital space happen organically?
I have always been interested in the digital space, and it started at an extremely young age. I started making a lot of home videos with my friends when I was 10 (they never saw the light of day because there were no platforms to show them at the time). However, I started to have a different mindset toward content at the tail end of college. It was extremely hard for me to do internships while being a student-athlete at UCLA, and someone had told me to look at those platforms as an opportunity to display my other interests while being able to gain practice. I then was super inspired watching others create content, and I look back at where I am today and say my platform on social media was a happy accident. I say that because I was having fun looking at those platforms as mini businesses and thoroughly enjoyed the content I created/edited.
As we all know, social media is powerful. What is your top priority for the way you use your platform and engage with your audience?
I haven’t put too much thought into this; however, I always want to make sure that my fans feel like they are a part of my journey. I like showing the behind-the-scenes or things that I am currently doing so that they not only feel like they’re watching me, but watching as a part of my “penguin family”. I have a lot to learn post-gymnastics in the entertainment space, and I want to show them that I am also continuing to learn and grow and make mistakes along the way. I like responding to their comments, but sometimes it feels so impersonal, and I would much rather meet with them in person.
What do you enjoy most about content creation?
The thing I enjoy the most about content creation is the freedom to create whatever I want. If one day I feel like doing transitions, acting or singing, I can do that on these platforms. I love challenging myself while having fun and taking my penguin family along on the ride with me.
You turned 29 in June. What has been an important lesson you learned during your twenties?
It’s crazy to even think that I’m 29 already! I am looking forward to creating, as I have just scratched the surface of blossoming my new dreams. I do think of my age as a hindrance sometimes, but I also have to remind myself that I had such an amazing athletic career that I am carrying with me throughout my new one. I constantly have to remember that frustration and failure are just a part of my new journey, but it is my attitude and outlook that motivate me to keep moving forward. No matter what age you are, your dreams can be a reality with hard work along the way.
Music has long been important in your life. Do you have any plans to release your own?
Music has always been my other dream as a kid, alongside the Olympics. I am definitely excited and can’t wait to share music when the time comes.
What songs have you had on heavy rotation?
“Vegas” by Doja Cat has heavily been on repeat, as well as my K-pop and Lofi lists! I love branching out to different cultures of music as well.
Photography by: Lindy Lin