Soo Yeon Lee is an extraordinary table tennis champion, an elegant fashion model, and an actress. She was born in Pusan, South Korea and began her extensive training in table tennis at the age of nine under the supervision of former Olympic Gold Medalist Jung Hwa Hyun. Soo Yeon’s extraordinary skills were recognized early when she won successive titles as the Korean National Junior Team Champion at the age of twelve, 1st Place in the Taiwan International Junior Table Tennis Championship, and 2nd Place in the Czechoslovakia International Junior Table Tennis Championship.
Soo Yeon’s defensive technique, which emphasizes spin variation and highly tuned movements, quickly earned her a place on the Korean National Team, where she went on to take 2nd place in the World University Championship in China. Some of her additional achievements in table tennis include being crowned the 2004 New Zealand Women’s Singles Champion and Senior Female Sportsperson of the Year. In 2007, she came to the United States, and won the under 24 category in the U.S. Open Championship and later the Cary Open Women’s Singles. She also won the San Diego Women’s Singles Division and the Killerspin Invitational Tournament Championship in Chicago in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
Soo Yeon’s unique and elegant looks have come to brand her as the new “face” of contempory table tennis on the world stage. It has also launched her television and modeling career, landing her with guest appearances on The Jay Leno Show, the Entourage television series, ESPN, CBS, and MTW. As a fashion model, she has appeared in a variety of notable magazines and newspapers such as Vanity Fair, GQ, Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times; she has also appeared in print and television ads for McDonald’s, Red Bull, Asics, Nike, and K-Swiss, among many other companies.
She also is the public face of Susan Sarandon’s ping-pong club Spin Galactic, has played in numerous matches for clients such as Microsoft, Verizon, Bing, Vanity Fair Magazine, and the Oscar Awards Pre-Party. She has also played in other exhibition matches for different charities such as Toys For Tots, Paddle Jam with George Lopez, Sports Art Education Foundation, and many more.
Soo Yeon is a highly sought after USATT Certified Coach, with advanced degrees in both Sports Psychology and Physical Education from the Korean Sports University. Her clients range from competition level players to special needs children, seniors, and celebrities. She is dedicated to providing assistance to the Table Tennis Therapy Program, which is designed to benefit those with Early Stage Alzheimer’s and mentally and physically disabled children.
In a recent interview, Soo yeon said, “I’m committed to sharing the wornderful benefits of table tennis and its rewards with as many young people as I can. The basic values one can learn, not only skill but such as sharing together, learning to support each other as a team, and even the idea of continuing to try to win when you feel all is lost – these are the values I’ve learned from this wonderful sport that I know have enriched me as a person and have helped me through my own hard times. I think these values are important for everyone – and I’m grateful every day for the opportunity to share what I’ve learned through this wonderful sport.
What made you become interested in playing table tennis?
“I started playing ping-pong as an extracurricular activity when I was in elementary school. I was active and athletic, so my teacher suggested me to join table tennis club after school. I had no idea what Ping-Pong was, but the coaches there were already looking for some kids to professionally train, as I heard later. I was having fun with friends, and at the same time, I was winning in team matches, state matches, etc. And then, it gradually became to take a bigger part of my life. So, it was a great hobby in the beginning, but the more I played, the more I get excited and enthusiastic about it. I guess I was naturally getting into playing ping-pong since I was young.”
What kind of training goes into preparing for championships in this sport?
“As well as table tennis, I do a lot of different kinds of exercise to develop certain skills that are required to play ping pong such as running, weight training, swimming, etc. Although I focus on table tennis training, I also try to improve such as good reflexes, muscle strengths, and breathing.”
Have you encountered any obstacles in your path to success that ever discouraged you?
“Looking back when I was a professional player, the hardest things was challenging again after failing. In sports, the score is very important factor of your life as a player, and not only the score determines, but also challenging myself was another obstacle to success.
So, whenever I failed, it was such a heartbreaking moment, and sometimes I experienced slump.”
What was one of your most rewarding moments in table tennis?
“Of course, when I won the championship. It was such a rewarding moment to see the outcome after years of training and hard work. At the same time, looking my family, friends, and people around me being so happy also paid off my commitment!”
What is one thing that you have learned from this sport?
“Of so many lessons, the most beneficial lesson from ping pong was the know how to challenge myself. Failure is the beginning of success. I now know how to overcome slump, train myself, and raise me up. This lesson is very beneficial applying to other aspects of my life as well.”
What made you become interested in modeling?
“I was always into fashion. When I was a professional player, I didn’t have much time to actively involve myself in fashion, maybe I’d be on sports magazines every now and then, but still I would always be excited about it. When I had a chance to step my foot into fashion industry, interest naturally grew, and so did my desire to be a model.”
When did you start modeling?
“About ten years ago. I started as a sports model while I was a player. So, I started as a part-time model, and that’s how I could transfer from a player to a model.”
What are a few different campaigns you have done?
“Many sports brands such as Nike, Asics, K-Swiss, etc. Also, I participated in many big or small occasions with fashion magazines, photographers, and designers such as Vanity Fair and Cosmopolitan, among others.”
Have you ever felt discouraged by any event in your modeling career? If so, what was it?
“Yes. I guess. Firstly, it was very different from playing Ping-Pong even though I had the same passion. I guess, in sports, I have more control toward success in terms of training myself and challenging myself. However, in modeling, I figured I had less choice because there was crew, director, audiences, and all the other things involved. I guess I was very confident and expecting so much for a beginning and the disappointment was as high.”
What was one of your most rewarding moments?
“When I see completed photos, videos, and appearances on TV after hard work. I am so happy when family and friends give me comments and encourage me, and when people and fans comments on my appearances, I become very encouraged as well.”
What made you become interested in acting?
“As I persuaded my career as a model, opportunities occasionally were open for me to act in dramas and movies. Since modeling also requires acting, it was a good practice for me. As I began taking more important roles, I figured there are more similarities between acting and sports than modeling and sports. Self-training, dedication to preparation, etc grabbed my attention and I found another side of myself, as well. I think that was the first huge impression of acting and how I got so into it.”
What was one of your first experiences with it?
“While I was in Korea, I did small roles occasionally, and that was when I was getting more interested in it. Then, in America, I played a role and taught the actors ping-pong in Entourage episode 7. That was my first and proper appearance as an actress on TV.”
What do you hope to achieve next in your acting career?
“I would like to focus on action and improve skills that are required for action movies. Currently, I am doing martial arts, weight training, etc in hopes of being the best next action star in the industry.”
Who inspires you the most? (It can be with acting, modeling, or table tennis)
“In ping-pong, of course, my former coach Hyun Jung-Hwa who has been my role model since I was young. In the later of my life in entertainment field, there are so many who inspire me to name that I can’t give out one. I guess it depends on the style, personality, and the area of activity.”
What is your advice to anyone in a younger generation that wants to pursue table tennis as a professional career?
“Be passionate and be interested in what you are doing. Genuinely want it. The talent comes next. Invest time, invest what you have, dedicate, and be mentally strong as well as physical. When you reach a certain level, you would have to compete with your mind and yourself. So, be ready!”
What is your 'dream vacation'?
“Anywhere with my mom will be the perfect one. Where we both can relax and feel the nature, we can spend the time together, and that is what I dream for a vacation right now.”
What is your personal fashion style?
“I don’t know exactly! I guess I have my own unique style. To define, what I like is casual, funky, and sexy. I enjoy trying different styles than others, and I like being unique!
What is one item in your purse you can never live without?
“I guess, obviously, money? Or, credit card?”
When you are stressed, what do you do to relax?
“I go work out. Swimming or yoga. Something that I can relax and makes me calm down rather than active exercises.”
Are you cat or a dog person?
“Hard to answer. I would say both, but if I had to choose only one, I would say I am a dog person. I guess I have more connection to dogs.”
What is one of your favorite hobbies?
“Sports, of course. As well, I like all kinds of outside activities from meeting people to going to concerts! Also, I travel a lot because I like absorbing other cultures and meeting people from different cultural aspects.”