A lifelong multi-sport athlete who was all-in on her goal to play college basketball, Lee began to feel progressively worsening pain in both of her legs. By her junior year of high school, she could scarcely get through the first quarter of a game before losing her ability to walk. The problem was compounded by several misdiagnoses that failed to provide any relief.
Two surgeries on both of her legs meant Lee could no longer play sports at the level she desired, but the process of testing and rehabbing her injury made her discover a passion for helping other athletes stay healthy and sparked an interest in becoming an athletic trainer. While recovering from her first surgery in 2012, Lee saw a breaking news headline on ESPN that the Los Angeles Dodgers had hired Sue Falsone, the first female head athletic trainer in any of the four major professional sports leagues.
"From that very moment," Lee said, "I have always said I will be the second."
That moment kickstarted a trailblazing journey across the country which allowed Lee to achieve a very significant first: her hire as Everett's athletic trainer ahead of the 2019 season made her the first female field staff employee in the history of both the AquaSox franchise and the Mariners organization.
"Holding that distinction honestly means more than I can put into words," Lee said. "Sue Falsone has been my inspiration, and I hope that I can be an inspiration for even just one female."
After graduating from the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, Lee was able to intern with the Dodgers Double-A affiliate, the Tulsa Drillers. She spent last season working for the same Dodgers organization that first employed Falsone (who is no longer with the team) at their rehab facility in Glendale, Arizona.
"Working for the Dodgers was nothing short of amazing," Lee said. "It was such an honor to get to work for the same organization that helped pave a path to get me where I am today."
But while she was working at world-class facilities with world-class athletes, she wasn't working with a team, and soon the Mariners offered her a position that she couldn't turn down. Despite being the first and only female amongst a team full of male players, Lee said she feels comfortable and supported.
"The Mariners organization has done an unbelievable job," Lee said. "Not only the staff but the players as well have welcomed me with open arms."
Regardless, there are still some practical and logistical challenges to being the only woman on staff. Places to use the bathroom, shower and change while on a road trip are sometimes difficult to come by. Sometimes, Lee has to hurriedly use the public women's bathroom on the concourse in between innings and before slipping back onto the field. Even food can be delayed, since the catered food for the team is often placed in the middle of the locker room, and Lee may have to wait until the team is done changing to go eat.
Aside from gender-related obstacles, Lee's job is challenging enough as it is. In the world of minor league baseball, where an official job description is just a rough estimate for actual duties, trainers do much more than just sit around and wait for players to get hurt.
"My phone blowing up is normally what wakes me up every day," Lee said. "I'm pretty much on call 24/7. Just because I'm not at the field doesn't mean I'm not working."
Lee has routine pregame and postgame treatments, as well as the potential for more if an injury happens. But she is also the team secretary, handling all the paperwork and coordinating any player movement for players that get promoted or demoted. She's also the team travel agent, taking her computer onto the field during batting practice to make hotel reservations and rooming lists, itineraries, treatment plans, bus schedules and everything in between.
Lee typically gets to the field around 11 or 12 o'clock and doesn't leave until an hour or two after the game is over. When the team is on the road and there's a bus trip involved, the amount of time to do things is significantly slashed, so treatments and paperwork often get done in her hotel room.
There are challenging aspects to the job that go beyond the day-to-day grind, as well. Being on the road for several months out of the year means that Lee often misses out on time with family and friends.
"I have three, almost four little nieces and a nephew who are growing like weeds," Lee said. "It's hard to miss birthdays, school events, and just watching them grow up."
That said, the bonds created between members of the team are "like family," Lee said. "My favorite thing about my job is building relationships with the players and staff. We literally spend all day every day with each other for about 7-8 months out of the year."
Despite the long hours and unique difficulties, Lee still loves her job and is confident about the path she's on.
"I knew what I was getting myself into," Lee said. "I knew it would be a challenge, but I'm always up for a good challenge."
And the spark of wanting to get athletes healthy that originally stemmed from her own injury process is very much alive.
"There is no better feeling than helping someone go from fresh out of surgery or injury to getting back out on the field, playing, and doing what they love again," Lee said. "Seeing them throw that first pitch or catch that first fly ball… it's a great feeling."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.