For those who live in Rancho Santa Margarita and used to encounter the strange sight of a high-jump pit sitting in the frontyard of the Lee family home and a 7-year-old boy trying to clear 2 feet, 10 inches while running up the driveway, there's good news to report.
The boy, Sean Lee, is all grown up. He's 6 feet, 3 1/2 inches, a freshman at Trabuco Hills High and is soaring to heights few others have experienced.
Twelve times he has set U.S. track and field youth records, including 5-3 in the high jump for 9-10-year-olds, 5-11 for 11-12 and 6-6 for 13-14.
Last week, he cleared a personal-best height of 6-9. His goal this year is to reach 7 feet, which is the freshman prep record. And the national prep record of 7-7 one day could be in his sights.
Sportswriters too loosely refer to young star athletes as "phenoms," but in the case of Lee, it's appropriate.
"I've always enjoyed high jumping because you keep improving and going higher," he said.
Lee's coach is his father, Ron, an assistant at Trabuco Hills who was a state champion high jumper in Oregon in 1982 and a U.S. Masters champion. He has cleared 7-2. An older sister also high jumps.
"I train him but I don't overtrain him," his father said. "I think he has a good chance of going 7 feet. He has a fast approach and has really good technique. He just needs to get bigger and stronger."
Lee is a straight-A student at Trabuco Hills, and as he soars in the high jump, more and more people will start following his progress.
He's scheduled to compete at next Saturday's Arcadia Invitational, the premier track-and-field event in the Southland.
It all began when Lee wanted to follow his sister into high jumping. His father spent $1,200 to buy a landing pit with standards and a bar to use in the frontyard. It's now stored in the garage.
"For me, the fun part is going over the bar," Lee said. "Once you get off the ground, you fly over the bar and feel relieved. I don't get super-emotional. I get excited if I do something good."
Lee doesn't lift weights; he does plyometric training, works on his speed, flexibility and explosiveness. He can dunk a volleyball, which is part of his training. He has grown more than 5 inches in the last two years and is still growing. Career-wise, he has aspirations of becoming a chemical engineer.
In the sport of high jumping, the world record was set in 1993 by Javier Sotomayor of Cuba. He cleared 2.45 meters (a little over 8 feet). It's the longest-standing record in the history of the high jump.
There's no telling how much Lee can keep improving, but it's going to be fun keeping track of his progress. He's only 15, with outstanding technique and a coach-father who's enjoying the pupil-son relationship.
"I get more thrilled when he breaks a record than I ever did," Ron said.
Sean said he is thankful for his dad's expertise and support.
"He's a good coach. He believes in me," he said.