From Olympic Skater to SLU Scholar: Professor Pauline Lee Recalls Her Days on Ice
As a freshman at Stanford University, Pauline Lee, Ph.D., juggled the rigor of her
classwork with hours of athletic training as she prepared to skate in the 1988 Winter
Olympics. After the games ended, Lee focused on her next challenge - her education.
Lee, an associate professor of Chinese religions and cultures at Saint Louis University,
walked away from figure skating at 18, but she appreciates her time on the ice as
the first woman to represent Taiwan in figure skating.
“When you find something that you love so much and you have that dedication to pursue
it for so long, that attitude will carry you over into whatever you do next,” she
said. “The discipline that is required to dedicate yourself to a sport five or six
hours a day carries over into the rest of your life.”
Lee began skating at 5 and began entering competitions at age 8. Growing up in Mankato,
Minnesota, she was first taken to the rink by a babysitter and fell in love with the
sport. “I loved the artistry of it,” she said.
At her first competitive skate, Lee choreographed her own moves and her father acted
as dee-jay, cutting a section of “It’s a Small World,” for the length of her program.
When Lee was 13, the head of the Taiwanese Olympic Federation, visited Minnesota.
A friend of her grandmother, he stopped in to see her family and ended up seeing her
skate. An invitation to skate for Taiwan followed. Lee holds dual U.S. and Taiwanese
Lee limited the number of competitions she was in each year to three or four of the
larger events so that she wasn’t missing much school. “It was very exciting to compete
in the big competitions, but school was always more important,” Lee said. “My grades
needed to stay above an A-minus.”
In 1988, Lee headed to the Winter Olympics in Calgary to represent Taiwan on a team
that included five skiers, four bobsledders, two lugers and a male figure skater.
When the games were over, she hung up her skates and returned to Stanford.
“I had a complicated relationship with skating. I totally went away from it for a
while and it’s just now that I’m starting to look back at that time,” Lee said. “I
didn’t want to peak at 18.”
While working towards her bachelors in English literature, Lee read The Zhuangzi 莊子, a compilation of stories and anecdotes dating back to 300 BCE, which led her
into exploring Chinese philosophy. She was intrigued by the text and wanted to learn
“I love it,” she said. “It opened so many doors for me. I use it in my classes to
That book led her to pursue other ancient texts and pursue her doctorate in religious
studies. Lee joined the faculty at SLU in 2013. “I wanted to be someplace with a large
religion department. I knew that working at a Jesuit institution there is a special
value placed on the study of religion and theology.”
In May, Lee was honored at the first Scholarly Works reception hosted by the Office of Vice President for Research (OVPR). She was recognized for
her co-authored book, A Book to Burn and a Book to Keep (Hidden): Selected Writings of Li Zhi, published by Columbia University Press in June 2016. It is the first English translation
of the Confucian thinker’s writings, which were considered heretical during his life
Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious
Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first
university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous,
transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse
community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares
students to make the world a better, more just place. For more information, visit